Hello, we are Beth Healy and Andrew Ryan, investigative reporters with The Boston Globe's renowned Spotlight Team.

Our team has just published an explosive investigation and podcast about Aaron Hernandez, the star Patriots tight end who was convicted of murder and later died from suicide in prison. The series uncovers a lot of never-before-seen details about Hernandez's troubled past and explores a system that turned a blind eye to the warning signs, including the NFL.

You can download and listen to the podcasts here: https://apps.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/gladiator/

You can read the series here: Part One, Bristol: https://apps.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/gladiator/bristol/ Part Two, Florida: https://apps.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/gladiator/florida/ Part Three, Foxborough: https://apps.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/gladiator/foxborough/ Part Four, Murder: https://apps.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/gladiator/murder/ Part Five, Prison: https://apps.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/gladiator/prison/ Part Six, CTE (Coming Friday)

Here's more about us if you're curious: Beth: https://www.bostonglobe.com/staff/healy Andrew: https://www.bostonglobe.com/staff/ryana

We're really excited to be here. AMA!

This AMA is part of r/IAmA’s “Spotlight on Journalism” project which aims to shine a light on the state of journalism and press freedom in 2018. Join us for new AMAs every day in October.

Comments: 91 • Responses: 23  • Date: 

xalupa22 karma

Do you think the identity of the person who molested Hernandez when he was a child will ever be made public?

bostonglobe29 karma

This was certainly one of the avenues of our reporting, and we do have some leads. It's something we will continue to pursue. - BH

DCinsidertoo21 karma

This series has been fascinating, and I think you folks have done a tremendous job. It seems like you have downplayed, to some extent, Hernandez's sexual orientation, given that no current NFL player is openly gay. The fact that Hernandez was gay seems like a large news story to me. Did you ever contact the NFL to discuss that? For example, why is the atmosphere so negative in the NFL that players are afraid to come out?

bostonglobe28 karma

So - I don't think we downplayed his being gay. We broke a lot of news in this series about him growing up in a homophobic household, about a high school friend he had a relationship with, as well as his coming out later in life to his mother and brother. The NFL has a culture, still, of being a tough place to be out. Michael Sam was the only openly gay NFL player so far, and he only played in pre-season games, never in the regular season. Professional sports have a long way to go to accept gay athletes -BH

confusedblues17 karma

Thanks for doing this. What was behind the decision to focus on this topic?

bostonglobe19 karma

Thanks for reading - Spotlight has a history of tackling stories about important institutions, in this case the NFL. We also felt Hernandez was a big story in our back yard -- a story that had fast-moving developments and could benefit from a deeper dive. -- BH

orangejulius13 karma

Did you discover anything interesting about his time in Florida?

bostonglobe16 karma

We dedicated one day of the series to his time in Florida. We dug into who Hernandez graduated high school early so he could play spring football. We found that he immediately had to take remedial classes at a local community college, obtained his HS and college transcripts, and more. We learned – from recorded phone calls Hernandez later made from jail – that he arrived in Gainesville brimming with anger. There lots more here. If you didn't check out the Florida day of the series, here it is: https://apps.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/gladiator/florida/ -AR

bostonglobe12 karma

Thanks everyone for your questions, and for reading and listening to the series. We finish up the written stories tomorrow; day 6 focuses on CTE and they all can be read at globe.com/gladiator. There are still four more episodes of the podcast coming, you can subscribe to that at applepodcasts.com/gladiator. And, shameless plug here, investigative journalism is time-consuming and expensive, and being a subscriber means you help pay for it. You can become a Globe subscriber at globe.com/subscribe - Beth and Andrew

mismanaged7 karma

What do you find the most difficult part of your work? Either practically or emotionally.

bostonglobe12 karma

Thanks for the question. To do this work, you have to be conditioned to face rejection – over and over and over again. When it is a difficult topic, people often don’t initially want to talk to us. In this case, it was certainly hard to dig through some of records and listen to some of the things we heard. -- AR

parabolicpressure7 karma

Great series, one of the best pieces of journalism I've read all year. But after reading the first five installments, I found myself extremely sympathetic to Hernandez and I came away feeling as though he was basically just a kid who was exploited by almost everyone around him at every stage in his short life. Do you have any regrets that perhaps the series was too one-sided and didn't fully explore the harm that he caused? Do you think that any of the biggest villains in this story - e.g. the profit-driven college football machinery, the irresponsible New England Patriots, the CTE-causing sport of football - will change or be forced to change as a result of this series?

bostonglobe12 karma

Thank you for the kind words about the series. In terms of your question about being sympathetic to Hernandez, our goal was to try to understand as best we could how this happened. We found that in the aftermath of Hernandez’s convictions and death that institutions tried to erase their connections to him. (buying back jerseys, taking down trophies, sawing an All-American brick out of a walkway.) We were trying to determine what – if anything – could be learned from Hernandez and the pain he caused. -AR

cahaseler7 karma

Did you ever feel in danger during your reporting? Worried about getting on the wrong side of people?

bostonglobe15 karma

In this project, I never felt like I was in any sort of danger. You never know how someone is going to react when you knock on someone’s door and on other projects I’ve certainly faced people who weren’t very happy to see me. My experiences pale in comparison to the dangers that other brave journalists face across the world. -AR

bostonglobe9 karma

Generally we don't scare easy, but there are times for sure that we join up in a pair to go to particularly difficult or possibly risky reporting assignments. - BH

ThrowedOff5 karma

Thank you guys for everything you do, the Spotlight team does a great job of speaking truth to power, and us readers really appreciate it!

I'm wondering: When Hernandez first spoke with BB regarding not feeling safe at home, having the safe "flop" house, etc. (I believe this was at the 2013 combine in Indy), did BB share this information with anyone else in the organization? The franchise is worth a billion dollars. Are we to believe they don't have a Human Resources department that should receive this information?? This seems to cross the line of plausible deniability. BB had to have known something wasn't right, even if it was a mental health issue

Keep up the good work!

bostonglobe10 karma

Our reporting found that Belichick had Aaron Hernandez work with an operations exec who helped him rent the flophouse. But that no one ever followed up on his security concerns. We have evidence from police reports and grand jury testimony that Aaron Hernandez told Belichick his serious concerns and asked to be traded to a team farther away. - BH

maineblackbear4 karma

Any problems in the newsroom because of this? Is Ben Volin on board? (I know he's not particularly popular with the Pats front office)-- what about the other sports reporters? Did they miss the story? Not publish? Get their stories quashed?

bostonglobe8 karma

We’ve heard reactions from a lot of readers, many of whom have strong feelings about the Pats. I’m not aware of any specific blowback. Regarding Dan Shaughnessy: I think Dan is in charge of his own popularity. That’s beyond the control of The Spotlight Team. - AR

bostonglobe5 karma

I felt no pressure one way or the other from anyone in the newsroom in this series. Ben Volin was very helpful on this project because before Ben covered the Pats, he covered Aaron Hernandez when he played for the Florida Gators. We interviewed Ben for the accompanying podcast we produced with Wondery. The podcast is also called Gladiator. - AR

flotador74 karma

Has your job change now that "fake news" is such a trendy thing to say and think?

Have you seen or felt that people are more hesitant to open up to reporters after that narrative started?

bostonglobe13 karma

The era of people calling unflattering but accurate reporting "fake news" is disturbing to all reporters, I think. And it is problematic for everyone really. On the positive side, I think we work harder than ever to get sources on the record as much as we can, to check facts and have a high ethical bar. I have not felt that it's hurt our ability to gather news -- many people want to be helpful so we get it right. - BH

kingshmiley4 karma

The Benoit Incident was a catalyst for extreme changes in the way WWE handled concussions and head injuries, and still has effects even today. Do you think Aaron Hernandez will be a catalyst for the NFL to make wide sweeping changes or will this be swept away?

bostonglobe7 karma

Hernandez is one of a growing number of football players with brain damage from football. It's hard to know if AH in particular will spark change in the NFL. The League spent many years downplaying CTE and now is paying out money in settlements. But there are still millions of kids playing tackle football who could be at risk. The final piece in the series, launching tonight, delves into CTE. - BH

maineblackbear3 karma

fascinating reading; have enjoyed the series...... Question: Do you think we normalize this behavior when rich and famous people do it? Or do you think it stigmatizes the behavior further (the guns, drugs, etc)?

Also, Belicheck comes off looking just terrible in your series (deservedly so, IMHO)- have you experienced any blowback? (Like, does Dan Shaugnessy go up in popularity because the Patriots have other people to hate :-)

bostonglobe2 karma

Interesting about whether we normalize this behavior as a society...that may be yet another good reason to do deeper dives on high-profile cases like this, so it's not normalized. It's true that all sorts of celebrities can exhibit bizarre behavior, like Hernandez did, and not be stopped because of their talent - BH

mvingiello72 karma

A hypothetical question here: do you think Hernandez's situation could have been better if he played for a team far away from his home & friends in Connecticut?

bostonglobe3 karma

Who knows, but Hernandez's friend Dennis SanSoucie said as much in part three of the series: “Him going to New England was the worst thing the NFL could have done.’’ said SanSoucie. “The one place you don’t send him back is where he tried getting away from.’’ So did Greg Bedard, who, as a football columnist for the Globe and Sports Illustrated, covered Hernandez from his rookie training camp until his final day of freedom: “I think this story turns out a lot differently if he’s, say, in Seattle or San Francisco or someplace just out of reach of Bristol, Conn."

https://apps.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/gladiator/foxborough/

Oprinist2 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA! This is more of a conjectural question, but: Boston has always seemed to have a very close and almost personal relationship with their sports teams and stars. When many years have passed since Hernandez’s death and the Patriots have left the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era that Hernandez was a part of, how do you think Hernandez will be remembered? As a villain or as a tragic figure? In many ways, he seems like a victim of circumstance and of a system that prioritized his athletic talents over his mental heath, but that also doesn’t change his actions.

bostonglobe4 karma

Bostonians are very passionate people about all things, but especially sports (Benintendi!!). I am not a sports reporter by trade, but it does seem like many New Englanders do feel a strong personal connection to their sports stars. As our reporting found, Hernandez’s legacy is complicated. There are the victims’ families here in Boston... and then the broader questions about what Hernandez tells us about big-time football. -AR

IwataFan2 karma

What do you consider the most surprising finding from your research on Hernandez?

bostonglobe8 karma

We were surprised by many things we found in our reporting, covering everything from his childhood to college to the NFL to prison. The recordings of Hernandez’s phone calls from jail offer a range of insights, large and small. We spent a long time listening to the calls, which showed how comfortable he was in jail. He actually described his cell as “cozy.” - AR

lula24881 karma

You've found a suitecase full of $750k in cash in $100 dollar bills, in the brush next to a highway. You can tell that it's been there for at least a year. How would you integrate this money into your life without raising red flags?

bostonglobe9 karma

I would try to launder the money through local casinos - AR

bostonglobe4 karma

Well as Spotlight reporters, I think we'd contact the authorities and write about it - that's how we'd integrate it into our lives ;) What would you do?? - BH

UnprovableLucas1 karma

What is something in your life that you're super awesome at?

bostonglobe4 karma

I guess you don't mean reporting? - BH

bostonglobe4 karma

I am a very, very good dancer -AR

parabolicpressure1 karma

I'm curious as to how the Globe was allowed to listen to the jailhouse and prison conversations - are these public record? Also, the prison in Shirley apparently allowed the Globe to listen to some conversations but not others. Was this just an arbitrary inside collaboration between the Globe and the Department of Corrections, or were there actual guidelines/regulations being followed?

bostonglobe12 karma

Yes, jail calls are public record -- although only the Suffolk jail released them after our record requests. Our records specialist, colleague Todd Wallack, believes the Bristol jail and Souza-Baranowski are defying public records law by not releasing calls. Important to know: the beginning of every jail call contains a warning that the calls are being monitored. Jail officials monitor these recordings, and they can be used against inmates. That's why they should also be public to others, not just to the authorities. Finally, we only heard a few calls from the other jails -- those came from public record requests to the Suffolk County DA. You can listen to some of these recordings in the articles and in the Gladiator podcast, out every Tuesday. - BH