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In his first and likely last comments on Aaron Hernandez, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he was shocked and disappointed that a player involved with a murder investigation was associated with his team.
After introducing the topic, Belichick did not say Hernandez’s name again in a 22-minute press conference in which he expressed remorse for Odin Lloyd and his family, the victim of Hernandez’s alleged crime, and appeared genuinely contrite.
It was a stark contrast from Belichick’s past press conferences held in response to controversy.
“It’s a sad day. It’s really a sad day on so many levels,” Belichick said in his opening statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family with the victim. I express my sympathy with everyone that’s been impacted.
“A young man has lost his life, a family has suffered a tragic loss.”
Belichick was out of the country when he learned of the investigation.
“I and other members of our organization were shocked and disappointed in what we’d learned, having someone in the organization that is involved in a murder investigation,” he said. “And after consultation with ownership we acted swiftly and decisively.”
The team cut Hernandez on June 26, the day he was arrested.
Belichick also said the organization did not know of Hernandez’s possible connection to a double homicide in 2012 that involved two Boston men, or a shooting in Florida in which the team’s former tight end is accused by an acquaintance.
“This case involves an individual who happened to be a New England Patriot,” Belichick said. “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 people we bring into the football operations,” Belichick continued. “Our players are generally highly motivated and gifted athletes. They come from very different backgrounds [with] many challenges along the way. And they’ve done things to get here. Sometimes they’ve made bad and immature decisions. But we try to look at every single situation on a case-by-case basis and we try to do what’s best for the football team and what’s best for the franchise.
“Most of those decisions have worked out. 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.”
The fallout from Hernandez’s arrest will affect the way the team evaluates players going forward, a process that is likely to be tweaked but not changed wholesale, Belichick said.
”We’ve talked about that,” he said. “The draft is nine months away. We have a process in place. It’s going to be improved. It’s going to be modified.”
Belichick made sure to explain the nuts and bolts that go into looking into a player’s background.
“I can tell you that we look at every player’s history from the moment we start discussing them,” he said. “Going back to his family, where he grew up, what his lifestyle was like, high school, [and] 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 going forward.
“It combines a player’s personal history, but again it also has to project to what we think, how we think he’ll be in our environment. Obviously the process is far from perfect. But it’s one that we’ve used since 2000 until today.
“Unfortunately, this most recent situation, with the charges that are involved, it is not a good one on our record.”
The Patriots coach said he has been advised by counsel not to discuss the case because it is ongoing, and said he would instruct his players to do the same.
Said Belichick: “It’s time for the New England Patriots to move on.”