Patriots coach shocked by Hernandez case
“As the coach of the team, I’m primarily responsible for the people that we bring into the football operation”
Fans wait behind security barriers to exchange jerseys of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez at the club’s merchandise shop. The Patriots offered the jersey exchange after Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters
When asked about players who are no longer with the New England Patriots, coach Bill Belichick usually says he will discuss only the names on his roster.
Until yesterday, Belichick had not spoken publicly about the arrest of Aaron Hernandez, a former Patriots tight end, on a first-degree murder charge last month. But the start of training camp presented an opportunity to address the Hernandez case, which has stunned the NFL and shaken up the Patriot organisation.
Belichick read from a statement for roughly seven minutes and took questions for 15 minutes, although he said he was unable to answer many of them because of the continuing investigation. He mentioned Hernandez’s name once and did not mention Odin Lloyd, whom Hernandez is charged with murdering, by name.
“I extend my sympathy to the ones who have been impacted,” said Belichick, who described the situation as sad “on so many levels.” He added: “A young man lost his life, and his family has suffered a tragic loss. There is no way to understate that.”
He also addressed, at least in a passing way, the fact that the Patriots drafted Hernandez after others around the league questioned his character.
“As the coach of the team, I’m primarily responsible for the people that we bring into the football operation,” Belichick said.
The Patriots released Hernandez shortly after he was arrested but before he was charged with first-degree murder. Hernandez also faces five gun-related charges and is being investigated as the possible gunman in a double homicide in Boston in July 2012, a month before he signed a contract extension worth more than $40 million.
Hernandez was scheduled for a hearing yesterday in his first-degree murder case, but it was delayed to allow the prosecution to collect more evidence for presentation to a grand jury. The next hearing is scheduled for August 22nd. Hernandez is being held without bail in a county jail in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts.
Belichick said he learned of the situation while he was out of the country.
“I and other members of the organisation were shocked and disappointed at what we had learned — having someone in your organisation that’s involved in a murder investigation is a terrible thing,” he said. “After consultation with ownership, we acted swiftly and decisively.”
When asked about defensive back Alfonzo Dennard, a felon still on the roster, Belichick declined to comment, again citing a continuing legal case. In February, Dennard was convicted of assaulting a police officer, an episode that occurred a week before the Patriots drafted him in 2012. He is to serve a 30-day jail sentence in March. Two weeks ago, Dennard was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, a possible parole violation. He is scheduled to have another hearing August 27th.
“Our players are generally highly motivated, gifted athletes who come from very different backgrounds,” Belichick said. “They’ve met many challenges along the way and have done things to get here. Sometimes they made bad or immature decisions.”
He added: “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 best for the franchise. Most of the decisions have worked out. Some don’t. Over all, I’m proud of the hundreds of players that have come through this program.”
Referring to the Hernandez case, Belichick said, “I’m personally disappointed and hurt in a situation like this.”
The team’s owner, Robert K Kraft, recently said, “If this stuff is true, then I’ve been duped.” Belichick, when asked if he felt the same way, declined to comment. Belichick also declined to say whether he had retained legal counsel or had been subpoenaed.
He said the team had not been aware until recently of the July 2012 shooting being investigated for a possible link to Hernandez.
The team’s methods for evaluating players, Belichick said, have been in place since 2000. He said he was comfortable with the methods but might make a few minor changes.
“Obviously, this process is far from perfect, but it’s one we’ve used from 2000 until today,” he said. “Unfortunately, this most recent situation, with the charges that are involved, is not a good one on that record.”
No players spoke to the news media, but quarterback Tom Brady, when asked this week about Hernandez, told Sports Illustrated, “I have moved on.” Belichick expressed similar sentiments.
“We’ll learn from this terrible experience and become a better team from the lessons that we’ve learned,” Belichick said.
He added: “My comments are certainly not in proportion to the unfortunate and sad situation we have here. It’s time for the New England Patriots to move forward.” New York Times