Tom Brady says he’s “moved on.” Another veteran player says the New England Patriots are approaching the 2013 season as if “Aaron Hernandez never existed.”
That may be the approach, but first Coach Bill Belichick had to face the media as the team was opening training camp at the same time as Hernandez was making an appearance at a brief probable cause hearing today in Attleboro, Mass.
Other than the pencil behind his ear, the man at the podium in Gillette Stadium bore little resemblance to the coach who is usually curt and dismissive of his media duties. He began by reading a lengthy statement about Hernandez, who was charged last month with the murder of semipro football player Odin Lloyd.
“It’s a sad day, really a sad day on so many levels,” Belichick said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim and I extend my sympathy really to everyone who’s been impacted. A young man lost his life and his family’s suffered a tragic loss and there’s no way to understand that.”
Belichick, who makes personnel as well as coaching calls, noted that “I’m primarily responsible for the players we bring into the organization” and said that he is “personally disappointed and hurt” by the Hernandez situation.
“When I was out of the country, I learned about the ongoing criminal investigation that involved one of our players, and I and other members of the organization were shocked and disappointed at what we had learned,” Belichick said of the June 17 murder and Hernandez’s arrest June 26. “Having someone in your organization that’s involved in a murder investigation is a terrible thing. After consultation with ownership, we acted swiftly and decisively.
“[Owner] Robert [Kraft] and his family and I, since I got here in 2000, have always emphasized the need for our team and our players and our organization to represent the community the right way, both on and off the field. We’ve worked very hard together over the past 14 years to put together a winning team that is a pillar in the community, and I agree 100 percent with that, the comments that Robert has already made on the situation. I stand behind those as well.”
Kraft met with reporters July 8 and said then that, “If this stuff is true [about Hernandez], then I’ve been duped and our whole organization has been duped.”
Hernandez was a gamble when he was drafted in 2010. A talented tight end at the University of Florida, there allegedly were college incidents and questions about his social maturity at the NFL draft. He fell to the fourth round and the Patriots gambled in drafting him. Belichick faced that issue, too, in his statement and promised that the team would “learn from this terrible experience.”
“As the coach of the team, I’m primarily responsible for the people that we bring into the football operations. Our players are generally highly motivated and gifted athletes. They come from very different backgrounds,” he said. “They’ve met many challenges along the way and have done things to get here. Sometimes, they’ve made bad or immature decisions, but we try to look at every single situation on a case-by-case basis and try to do what’s best for the football team and what’s best for the franchise. Most of those decisions have worked out, but some don’t.
“Overall, I’m proud of the hundreds of players that have come through this program, but I’m personally disappointed and hurt in a situation like this. You know, as far as the whole process goes, I can tell you that we look at every player’s history from the moment we start discussing it, going back to his family, where he grew up, what his lifestyle was like, high school, college experiences. We evaluate the performance, intelligence, his work ethic, his motivation, his maturity, his improvement, and we try to project that into our organization on a going-forward basis. It combines a player’s personal history, but it also has to project what we think and how we think he will be in our environment.
“Obviously, this process is far from perfect, but it’s one that we’ve used from 2000 until today. And unfortunately, this most recent situation with the charges that are involved are not a good one on that record. But we’ll continue to evaluate the way we do things and the way we evaluate our players. We do it on a regular basis, not just at the beginning when they come in. We do it on a regular basis. Personally, I’m challenged by the decisions that affect the team on a daily basis, and I’m not perfect on that, either, but I always try to do what I think is best for the football team.”
Belichick closed his statement by saying that he’d “been advised to address the situation once and move forward.” He tried his best to do that, deftly declining to answer questions related to Hernandez, but the issue was continually revisited. Belichick, who has won three Super Bowls and also was involved in the Spygate controversy, gave the clear impression of being a man who understands how this reflects upon him, his team and the reputation of both.
At one point, he replied to a question: “This is real life.”
(The Boston Herald has the full transcript.)