FOXBOROUGH – During a press conference called specifically for him to address the Aaron Hernandez situation, a somber Bill Belichick said on Wednesday that he was “shocked and disappointed” to learn that a member of his organization was involved in a murder investigation.
Wearing a collared, short-sleeve windbreaker, Belichick spoke in a quiet, measured tone, bringing a prepared statement with him to the lectern.
That statement — written by Belichick, a Patriots spokesman said — lasted about seven minutes, and as he read it, it was clear that Belichick has been affected by the events that have transpired with his now-former player.
“It’s a sad day, a really sad day on so many levels,” Belichick began. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim. I send my sympathy to everyone who has been impacted. A young man lost his life. His family has suffered a tragic loss, and there’s no way to understate that.
“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.
“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 [to release Hernandez].
“Robert [Kraft] and his family and I, since I got here in 2000, have always emphasized the need for our team and out players and our organization to represent the community the right way, 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 [and] the comments that Robert has already made on the situation, I stand behind those as well.”
Both Belichick and Kraft were overseas on vacation last month when Odin Lloyd was killed and police quickly turned their attention to Hernandez, the 23-year old tight end the team had drafted in the fourth round in 2010 out of the University of Florida.
Last year, with two years remaining on his four-year rookie contract, the Patriots and Hernandez agreed to a contract extension that would pay him $40 million over five years and included a $12.5 million signing bonus.
When Kraft returned to Massachusetts and spoke to a small group of reporters, he said, “If it’s true, I’m just shocked. Our whole organization has been duped.”
Belichick acknowledged that he is the person within the organization primarily responsible for bringing players to the team. As he gave an overview of the process the Patriots use in evaluating potential players, he noted that overall most of the personnel decisions made have been good ones.
“This case involves an individual who happened to be a New England Patriot. We certainly do not condone unacceptable behavior and this does not in any way represent the way that the New England Patriots want to do things,” Belichick said.
“Our players are generally highly motivated and gifted athletes. They come from very different backgrounds. 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.
“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 his performance, his 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 again it also has to project what we think and how we think he will be in our environment.”
The process is “far from perfect,” Belichick said, and the Hernandez situation goes down as a negative on the team’s record.
That process will be evaluated, Belichick said.
He also noted that the staff spends time with the players on the roster, “educating them not only on football, but many other life experiences and off-field subjects. We stress high character and making good decisions. We’ll continue to do this and we’ll work to do a better job of it going forward.”
Though he deflected most of the Hernandez questions that came his way, noting that he couldn’t say much because of the criminal investigation, Belichick was asked about the apartment Hernandez kept in Franklin and the implication from one of his alleged accomplices that other Patriots used it as well.
“We have absolutely done as much work as we can on finding out things like that and we’ll try to get all the information that we can as that would apply to any current situation, which I can’t talk about,” he said. “But we absolutely are trying to do that, yes.”
Belichick said the Patriots did not know about Hernandez possibly being connected to a double homicide in Boston last July, nor did they know about the alleged incident earlier this year in Florida in which Hernandez is accused in a civil suit of shooting an acquaintance in the face.
There was one moment of levity: When a reporter prefaced his question with, “without bring too specific . . . ” and Belichick quickly shot back, “I don’t think you need to worry about that, but I appreciate the warning.” The question had to do with whether Belichick has felt the need to discuss the situation with family and friends.
“Well, it certainly goes way beyond being a football issue, there’s no question about that,” he said. “This is real life, so it’s a substantial issue. I don’t know how it could be any more substantial or any bigger.”
Belichick clearly wanted to tackle the issue head-on Wednesday, and then does not intend to discuss it again.
“We’ll learn from this terrible experience that we’ve had. We’ll become a better team from the lessons that we’ve learned,” he said. “We have so many players on this team that work hard, that do the right thing and that set a great example of being a professional and being a solid representative of this team and the community.
“I know that there are a lot of questions, fair questions, about this subject and related subjects. I’m not trying to make the story disappear but I respect the judicial process and have been advised not to comment on on-going legal proceedings. I’m advising our players to do the same thing.
“We have a system in justice that deals with criminal charges and ultimately the judge or the jury will determine the accountability. My comments are certainly not in proportion to the unfortunate and sad situation that we have here.
“I’ve been advised to address the subject once and it’s time for the New England Patriots to move forward. Moving forward consists of what it’s always been here: to build a winning football team, be a strong pillar in the community, be a team that our fans can be proud of. That’s what we’re here for.”Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.