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Bill Belichick stands tall on 'sad day'

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  July 24, 2013 02:16 PM

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He said the name once, the eighth and ninth words in an 878-word statement, and then never again.

Come to think of it, it would be an upset if Bill Belichick ever says tight end-turned-alleged murderer Aaron Hernandez's name in front of a notepad or television camera for as long as he remains head coach of the New England Patriots.

And that's more than fine.

Choosing to not mention Hernandez by name more than a single time is his prerogative. And such obvious distancing from the accused is undoubtedly the advice of the team of lawyers who surely vetted and vetted again the Patriots coach's first public comments on Hernandez since his June 26 arrest on first-degree murder charges in the death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd.

Besides, there's little left to be said.

Certainly not about the ex-player who now resides in a 70 square-foot cell that is smaller than the ridiculous doghouse behind his 7,000 square-foot mansion, an ex-player whose fall from stardom to something apparently utterly sinister grows more unfathomable by the day.

But more so, there's little left to be said because Belichick rose to the occasion Wednesday.

During a press conference that few in the media thought would happen and fewer still believed would provide actual substance, he revealed a feeling, affected person behind the usual unflinching, cliche-grunting persona.

Belichick did something that we've rarely experienced since he arrived here in 2000: He told us everything he could.

"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," said Belichick in his opening 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."

That – an acknowledgement of the young life lost – was expected. So much of what followed was not. During his reading of the statement and brief question-and-answer session, which all told took 22 minutes, he was vaguely candid, or maybe it's candidly vague, but he still offered more insight than he usually does for the most mundane of football inquiries.

It was the best he could do, and it was more than enough.

He explained that he was out of the country when Hernandez was arrested and said he was in complete agreement with the decision to release him.

"Having someone in your organization that's involved in a murder investigation is a terrible thing,'' he said, and at one point the whole strange juxtaposition was captured by Comcast SportsNet New England on a split-screen.

On the left, there was Belichick, opening up. On the right, Hernandez, being led into an Attleboro courtroom for his probable cause hearing.

"Overall, I'm proud of the hundreds of players that have come through this program,'' Belichick said. "I'm personally disappointed and hurt in a situation like this."

Belichick said his mission statement during his 14 seasons as Patriots coach is to put together "a winning team that is a pillar of the community.''

He explained with eloquence the lengths the Patriots go to in order to learn as much about a potential draft pick or acquisition before they bring him to Foxborough.

"Our players are generally highly motivated and gifted athletes, they come from very different backgrounds,'' he said. "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."

There was just one time when I found myself skeptical of Belichick's words. Maybe you did too. It was when he said this: "I'm not trying to make this story disappear.''

With the Patriots on the brink of official preparation for a new season, there's nothing more he'd prefer.

Perhaps Belichick's approach Wednesday does help the team begin to move on. It certainly should limit the questions about Hernandez going forward. There was much debate among media members – who care so much more about these sort of things than do the fans – about whether Belichick would and should decide to address the situation.

Maybe you were fortunate enough to tune out the brunt of it. I wasn't so lucky.

For a brief moment during a debate-turned-shouting-match on Comcast SportsNet New England Tuesday night, it appeared as though Lou Merloni would have to pull apart Kirk Minihane and Gary Tanguay like an elementary school gym teacher intervening in a fistfight at recess.

It got to be a little much. I'm not one who believed Belichick was obligated to speak. But I wanted him to, for the very reason that we ended up glad that he did. The honesty and relative insight felt strangely cathartic. We know how it affected him, too. Bill Belichick told us.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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