Bill Belichick addressed the media from a Gillette Stadium press box Tuesday afternoon before Patriots’ training camp begins Friday and for the first time since his former player, Aaron Hernandez, was arrested in his North Attleboro home on June 26. He spoke for a total of 22 minutes once arriving on stage seven minutes after his scheduled start time of 1:45 pm and talked almost exclusively about the situation involving Hernandez.
Belichick was a bit more forthcoming and candid than he usually is at press conferences as he stood in front of cameras to close the book on Hernandez. He didn’t get annoyed by questions, seemed heartfelt in his responses and even smiled a few times along the way while making it very clear that it is time for the New England Patriots to just move on.
With training camp set to get underway later this week, there were not many football questions directed toward Belichick, though there were reportedly over 20 cameras in the room and “every media organization you can think of,” according to Zuri Berry. Others described the scene as being one of the more anticipated Belichick news conferences during his time with the Patriots as he declared that he had been advised to address the Hernandez situation once before putting it in the rearview for good.
Belichick opened the session by reading a statement of his own regarding Hernandez. It began like this: “I’m going to address the situation regarding Aaron Hernandez” and added that he “felt it was necessary.” He went on to say that it was “a sad day on so many levels,” before offering his thoughts and prayers to the family of Odin Lloyd. Some members of the former semi-pro football player’s family were reportedly at Hernandez’s probable cause hearing that got started just minutes after Belichick’s presser.
Following his initial comments on the situation, Belichick stated that he and other members of the organization were shocked when they found out about the murder investigation and also added that he was out of the country at the time. “After consultation with ownership, we acted swiftly and decisively [to release Hernandez],” he said before addressing the importance of community presence throughout the organization.
Belichick went on to say that he was “hurt” regarding the events surrounding Hernandez in the past month, but refused to answer any legal questions due to the ongoing nature of the investigation. He did say that the franchise evaluates performance before drafting or signing a player, but they also take a careful look at intelligence, maturity, work ethic and improvement only after evaluating the player’s background, including their family.
“Unfortunately, this most recent situation, with the charges that are involved, is not a good one on that record,” he admitted, but added that “we’ll learn from this terrible experience.” When asked (more than once) if the team would consider altering their pre-draft evaluations of any players or those who may have had character issues in the past, he reiterated that the “evaluating process will fundamentally remain the same in the future.”
Once the questions started to be asked, Belichick stated that he would not comment on any of the ongoing legal proceedings involving Hernandez and that he has advised the rest of his players to do the same. “I’m not trying to make the story disappear, but I respect the judicial system and have been advised not to make further comments [on the situation].” He refused to answer most of the Hernandez questions, including whether or not he has spoken with the tight end since his arrest in June, but noted that this past month has been “very unexpected.”
At 2:13 pm, 21 minutes after the start of the news conference, Belichick received his first question of the afternoon not related to Hernandez. This time, it was about the legal troubles involving second-year defensive back, Alfonzo Dennard. Shockingly, Belichick declined to comment on that one as well. He then abruptly walked off the stage a minute later, ending his pre-training camp news conference at 2:14 pm.
Basically, it was time for Belichick to address the media as well as the fans and definitively say that the team is moving on from the events that have cast a dark shadow over them this summer. He handled it about as well as he could have, even knowing that while he was speaking, one of his former players was appearing in court, wearing a suit jacket, dress shirt, no tie and handcuffs, swaying back and forth as he was being guarded. B.B. actually smiled a few times throughout the presser, including when he was asked, “without getting too personal,” if he had sat down with family or friends to address the Hernandez case.
Through the 22 minutes, however, he said the phrase ‘Aaron Hernandez’ just once – at the very beginning. The rest of the time, the tight end was referred to as “an individual,” “people,” “the player,” and “any player,” among other things.
The Patriots begin training camp Friday at 9 am.
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