New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick addressed the media for the first time since the arrest and subsequent murder charge against his former star tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Belichick, talking on Wednesday from the site of the Patriots’ training camp in Foxborough, Mass., was his typical stone-cold self but did address the issue for over 20 minutes.
"I am personally disappointed and hurt in a situation like this," Belichick said.
"We look at every player’s history, he said, adding, "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. … Obviously, this process is far from perfect. Unfortunately, this most recent situation, with the charges that are involved, is not a good one on that record."
"I always try to do what I think is best for the football team," he later added. "We spent a considerable amount of time evaluating our current players and educating them on not only football, but many other life experiences and off-field subjects. We stress high character and we stress making good decisions. We’ll continue to do this and we’ll work to do a better job of it as we go forward. We’ll learn from this terrible experience that we’ve had. We’ll become a better team from the lessons that we’ve learned.
Belichick said that he was not in the U.S. when he first heard of the news.
“When I was out of the country, I learned of the ongoing criminal investigation that involved one of our players and I and other members of the organization were shocked and disappointed in what we had learned," he said. "Having someone in your organization that’s involved in a murder investigation is a terrible thing."
The Patriots are eager to move on quickly from the Hernandez situation and any stain it leaves on the image of a team that has won three of its five Super Bowls in Belichick’s 13 years as coach. Belichick usually doesn’t address the media at training camp until it’s begun.
Belichick would not comment when asked if he has spoken to Hernandez. He did shoulder some of the blame and called the Patriots’ player evaluation-process, "far from perfect, but it’s one we have used from 2000 until today."
"As the coach of the team, I’m primarily responsible for the people we bring into the football operation," he said. "Our players are generally highly motivated and gifted athletes that come from very different backgrounds. They met many challenges along the way and have done things to get here. Sometimes they have made bad or immature decisions, but we try to look at every 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."
He went on to add that, "The draft is some time away. We have a process in place. Can it be improved? Can it be modified? It certainly can, and we’ll look at that."
The coach’s comments come a day after quarterback Tom Brady first answered questions regarding Hernandez, who was also due in court on Wednesday but had his probable cause hearing was rescheduled for Aug. 22.
“I’ve seen a lot of things over 13 years, and what I have learned is that mental toughness and putting aside personal agendas for what’s in the best interest of the team matters most,” Brady told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. “My job is to play quarterback, and I’m going to do that the best way I know how, because I owe that to my teammates regardless of who is out there on the field with me. I have moved on."
Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to murder and gun charges in the fatal shooting of Odin Lloyd.
"It’s really a sad day on so many levels. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim and I extend my sympathy really to everyone who has been impacted," Belichick said. "A young man lost his life and his family has suffered a tragic loss and there is no way to understate that."
Hernandez’s lawyers argue the case against him is circumstantial and say he is eager to clear his name. A judge has denied bail for Hernandez, and he is being held in a Massachusetts jail. Police searched his home several times during the investigation.
Lloyd, a semi-pro football player, was found slain on June 17 at an industrial park in North Attleborough not far from Hernandez’s home. The relatives of Lloyd, who died at 27, say he was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée, and that the two men were friends.
Prosecutors say Hernandez and two associates, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, drove with Lloyd to the industrial park. Authorities have not said who fired the shots, but documents filed in Florida paint the former Patriot as the triggerman. According to the records, Ortiz told police that Wallace said Hernandez fired the shots.
Wallace and Ortiz also are facing charges. Wallace pleaded not guilty to a charge of being an accessory to murder after the fact. Ortiz has pleaded not guilty to a gun charge.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft recently addressed the Hernandez issue, saying if the charges against the ex-TE are true, his organization has been "duped."
"We’ve worked very hard together the past 14 years to put together a winning team that’s a pillar in the community and I agree 100 percent with the comments that Robert has already made about the situation," Belichick said on Wednesday.
The Patriots last year signed Hernandez to a five-year contract worth $40 million but released him the day of his arrest.
"If this stuff is true, then I’ve been duped and our whole organization has been duped," Kraft said in a session with reporters from The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and ESPNBoston.com. "When he was in our building, we never saw anything where he was not polite. He was always respectful to me. We only know what’s going on inside the building. We don’t put private eyes on people."