Bill Belichick on Aaron Hernandez: ‘It’s a sad day, it’s really a sad day’
|07.24.13 at 2:35 pm ET|
FOXBORO — In one of the most anticipated press conferences of his 13-year tenure in Foxboro, Bill Belichick stepped to the podium Wednesday in the Gillette Stadium press box and addressed – for the first time – the release of Aaron Hernandez and his reaction to the former tight end being charged with murdering Odin Lloyd.
“I’m going to address the situation involving Aaron Hernandez today. I felt that it was important enough to do that prior to the start of camp,” Belichick said, reading from a written statement. “It’s a sad day, 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 to everyone who’s been impacted. A young man lost his life and 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 investigations that involved one of our players and I and other members of the organization were shocked and disappointed with what we learned. Having someone in your organization that’s involved in a murder investigation is a terrible thing, and after consultation with ownership, we acted swiftly and decisively.
“Robert [Kraft] and his family and I, since I got here in 2000, have always emphasized the need for our team, 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’s a pillar in the community, and I agree 100 percent with that, the comments that Robert’s already made on this situation. I stand behind those as well.
“This case involves an individual who happened to be a New England Patriot, and 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. As the coach of the team, I’m primarily responsible for the people that we bring into the football operation. 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. 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. 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 is 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, and 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 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. 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, and we will 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. 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 this story disappear, but I respect the judicial process and have been advised not to comment on ongoing legal proceedings. I’m advising our players to do the same things. We have a system [of] 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, but 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, to be a strong pillar in the community.
The press conference began about five minutes late but lasted approximately 23 minutes.
Bob Kraft has said he feels duped by Aaron Hernandez. Do you personally feel duped? “I’ll refrain from making any more comments on any ongoing people involved in the judicial process.”
You’re not in the season yet. Wouldn’t this be the time to do it? “I can’t do it.”
What were some of the red flags that you had about Aaron Hernandez prior to drafting him? Why did you decide it was OK to select him? “I’m not going to be able to talk about the people who are involved specifically in any ongoing judicial process. We do the same thing with all our players. We take a look, as I said, at their personal family life, we look at the history of what they’ve done in high school and college. In short, we accumulate all the information that we can accumulate, wherever that information comes from, and try to analyze it and make the best decision we can make for our football team on a case-by-case basis. It’s the same for every single player; the process is the same.”
How do you anticipate this affecting the way that you do business going forward, both when it comes to monitoring the guys already on the team and when it comes to considering guys who could be added to it? “I think the process is the same as what it’s been for the last 14 years. I think that we’ll continue to try to look at ourselves in the mirror and see where we can do a better job, maybe where we can improve the process. But I think the fundamentals of the process will remain the same. Again, I’m proud of the hundreds of players that have come through this organization. But we’ll continue to work hard to do a better job in every area going forward. I don’t know where those little things will come from but we’ll continue to be diligent on them.”
Does this raise the bar as far as draftees and free agents? Are you a little less apt to take risks going forward? “I think everyone is a case-by-case basis. Whatever the circumstances are that come with any individual, they exist and you have to make a determination as to what your comfort level is with that person and the characteristics that they bring.”
What has the past month or so been like for you? “It’s certainly very unexpected. These events were very unexpected. I was out of the country for a period of time but followed everything closely through other people in our organization and we’ve made the decisions that we felt were right for the football team and we’ll continue to do that and be as diligent as we can going forward.”
Is this going to change anything in your pre-draft psychological screening as far as how you judge draft prospects in the future? “We’ve talked about that. We’ve talked about what we want to do on that subject going forward. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. The draft is nine months off or whatever it is. Again, we have a process in place. Can it be improved? Can it be modified? It possibly can. We’ll certainly look at it.”
Robert Kraft had said that the team would be looking at the procedures and auditing how you do things. Has that process begun? What are you looking at? Where does that stand? “I feel like I just answered that question on the draft. Again, we’re in a constant evaluation and overseeing of our current team and current players.”
Do you use psychological profiles? And if not, are you going to use them going forward? “I answered the question on the draft. As far as our current players go, we continue to evaluate our players on a regular basis, seasonally, at different points during the season and offseason and so the beginning of the season, camp is always one of those points. So, we would address that as we normally do. We’ll talk to people that we think can help our situation. Whoever they may be, we’ve already done some of that. We have some other things scheduled that maybe getting some other ideas or some other thoughts on how we can improve our overall process. But I would say that any information that we get, we take it for what we feel like the value on it is, and the sources vary, as you know. It’s the business that you guys are in too. We try to get as much information as we can and make the best decisions that we can for the football team. That process won’t change. It could be modified or tweaked a little bit with what we do, but I don’t see the process changing.”
Can a team really dictate what a player does off the field and does your organization care to do so? And talking about the personality test, getting scored one for maturity ‘ how do you hire somebody that flunks the maturity test? “As part of the process, there are a lot of different ways to evaluate players. There are a number of different companies and things out there that do different things; that have different ways of evaluating and those types of tests and so forth. Not all teams use the same tests and certainly those tests are far from being 100 percent as well. It’s part of the process.”
Can a team really dictate what a player does off the field? Does your organization care to do so? “We certainly talk to our players and our team about what’s expected and basic guidelines on things like that, absolutely.”
Have you spoken with Aaron Hernandez since his name since surfaced in the investigation? “I cannot comment on any player who has ongoing criminal charges and legal situations.”
With the players that you have here now, is there any effort to either discover from them or keep them away from the place that Aaron had in Franklin? Are you actively trying to figure out who was there and keep guys away from there? “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, but we absolutely are trying to do that, yes.
Do you or any Patriots staff or players expect to be subpoenaed and if so have any of you engaged council for that? “That’s not something I can comment on.”
Did the organization have any idea about this double homicide in 2012 that he was connected or the shooting in Miami? “No.”
Given what Matt Light said, did any of your players come to you expressing concern about Aaron Hernandez? “Again, I can’t speak for anything anyone else has said and I can’t make any comment on the player’s situation.”
You had a player in yesterday for a tryout who had a previous gun incident. Did the experience with Aaron Hernandez color your decision in not signing him? “We had multiple players in and we signed the player that we thought was best for our football team.”
Will previous incidents color your personnel decisions moving forward? “Each decision will be done on a case-by-case basis and we’ll make the decision we feel is best for the New England Patriots football team.”
Obviously you’re somebody who tries to avoid distraction for yourself, the organization and the players. How do you expect your team to react during training camp with this story unfolding? “It’s time for the New England Patriots to move on and that’s what our job is. And as I said, our goal is the same: to have a winning football team, to be a pillar in the community. That’s what our direction is; that’s what we’re going to do.”
In terms of defining character, have the resources that you’ve used in the past been fairly reliable and do you feel like there was a failure here? Going forward, do you change resources that you rely on to determine character? “Well, nobody knows better than you guys that all sources are not equal. You guys know that better than I do. When you get information, you take the information, you evaluate it, and you do the best you can with it. So, there’s a variance in the quality and the amount of the information. It’s a case-by-case basis. Each one’s different. There’s no set formulas. I don’t think it works that way. but again, of the hundreds of players we’ve had through this program in the last 14 years, there’s been a lot of good ones, a lot of real good ones, and we’ll try to do a good job in bringing people into this organization in the future and try to learn from the mistakes that we’ve made along the way, of which there have been plenty. But we’re always trying to do a better job on that and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
Without being too specific and getting too personal ‘ “I don’t think you need to worry about that, but I appreciate the warning.”
Is this something that you felt the need to discuss with your family and friends? It goes beyond being a football issue and is something that’s very personal, and at the same time, very public. “Well, it certainly goes way beyond being a football issue, there’s no question about that. This is real life, so it’s a substantial issue. I don’t know how it could be any more substantial or any bigger.”
Was there a family discussion about it? “I mean, believe me, there have been plenty of discussions on it. There’s process in place here, so that’s the judicial process. We’ve had certainly lengthy discussions about it internally in our organization on a lot of different levels, so I think it’s gotten plenty of consideration, plenty of discussion.”
How do you assess the character of the men you currently are going to have in your locker room, and when you give that assessment how are the fans supposed to believe you given the colossal failure in this case? “We have a long track record. We’re going to continue to do what we feel is best for the football team, whatever we that happens to be and we’ll continue to evaluate our team. Where we think we can improve it, we’ll try to improve it.”
Are you confident in the character of the men you have in there now? “I’m confident in all the people that have been brought into the organization. Some have worked out and some haven’t. Hopefully we can put more on the ‘have’ side of the ledger than the ‘haven’t’, but I’m sure going forward we’re not going to be 100 percent in the future, just like nobody else is. But we will do our best.”
For clarification, someone asked about your knowledge of the 2012 double homicide and the incident in Miami and your answer was ‘no.’ Was that no, you can’t comment or no, you didn’t know? “That would be no.”
Is the issue of guns among athletes a topic of discussion of management and coaches around the league because this is a problem that previous generations have also had? “I can’t speak for all the other teams in the league and I can’t speak for what other discussions go on around the league. It’s certainly a point of discussion in league meetings and with security people that we talk to on a regular basis, whether they be local security or league security. We have league security meetings each year with the NFL and I’d say that topic has been address as long as I’ve been in the league, which would be [since] 1975. I think that topic has been addressed every single year.”
Can you discuss the thinking behind Alfonzo Dennard, who has had some issues, given your track record of when you stick with a player or don’t stick with a player. What went into that decision? “I can’t comment on that.”
How, if at all, has your relationship with Robert Kraft been affected by this? Has it been strengthened or damaged? “I feel like I’ve had a strong relationship with Robert and his family since I was here in 1996 and I think it’s gotten stronger every year that I’ve been here with the Patriots. The more things we do together, talk about together, work together on, the closer we become and the more we rely on each other. I feel like our relationship is very close and continues to grow closer every year as we grow older together.”