Patriots coach Bill Belichick met with the media Wednesday for the first time since Aaron Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder on June 26. The coach opened with a lengthy statement before answering questions about the former Patriots tight end.
"I'm going to address the Aaron Hernandez situation today," Belichick began. "I felt it was important to do that prior to the start of camp. You know, 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 really to everyone who has been impacted.
"A young man lost his life and his family's 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 investigation that involved one of our players, and I and other members of the organization were shocked and disappointed in what we had learned. Having someone in your organization that's involved in a murder investigation is a terrible thing. After consultation with ownership, we acted swiftly and decisively.
"(Owner) Robert (Kraft), his family, and I, since I got here in 2000, have always emphasized the need for our team and our players and our organization to represent the community the right way -- both on and off the field. And 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 the comments that Robert has already made on the situation, I stand behind those as well.
"This case involves an individual who happened to be a New England Patriot. We certainly do not condone unacceptable behavior, and this does not in any way represent the way the New England Patriots want to do things.
"As the coach of the team, I'm primarily responsible for the people 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, but I'm personally disappointed and hurt in a situation like this.
"Now as far as the whole process goes, I can tell you 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 performances, intelligence, work ethic, his motivation, his maturity, his improvement, and we try to project that into our organization in 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 will 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 in the beginning when they come in, but we do it on a regular basis.
"Personally, I'm challenged by the decisions that affect the team on a daily basis, and I'm not perfect on that either. But I always try to do what's 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 making good decisions. And 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 we've learned. We've had so many players on this team that work hard, that do the right thing, and 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. Not trying to make the story disappear but I respect the judicial process and have been advised to not comment on ongoing legal proceedings. I'm advising our players to do the same.
"Got a system in 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 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, be a team that our fans can be proud of. That's what we're here for."
The first question put to Belichick after his opening statement was about Kraft saying recently that he felt "duped" by Hernandez and whether the coach felt similarly.
Belichick's response: "I'll refrain from making anymore comments on any ongoing people involved in the judicial process."
Pressed further, Belichick reiterated that he wouldn't talk further on the matter. A theme he echoed when a reporter asked about the reservations the Patriots had about Hernandez prior to the team drafting him in the fourth round back in 2010.
Belichick on how the evaluation process might change for players currently on the roster and those player who might be added to the roster
"I think the process is the same as what it's been the last 14 years. I think we'll continue 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 who have come through the organization, but we'll continue to work hard to do a better job in every area."
Belichick on how this has affected him personally
"Certainly very unexpected. I was out of the country for a period of time but followed everything closely through other people in the 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."
Belichick on whether the team will change pre-draft screenings for prospects going forward
"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 month's off or whatever it is. But, again, we have a process in place. Can it be improved, can it be modified? It possibly can. We'll certainly look at it."
Belichick on how the Patriots could draft Hernandez after he scored a "1" on a pre-draft 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 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."
Belichick on monitoring his players off the field
"We certainly talk to our players and our team about what's expected, and basic guidelines on things like that, absolutely."
The biggest issue facing the team the last time Belichick held a press conference was how the Pats would use recently signed quarterback Tim Tebow. And after nine minutes of typical Belichickian stonewalling back on June 11, the presser was over and the media got the message: No matter how you phrase the question, Belichick wasn't going to let Tebow be a distraction.
Wednesday's press conference was a completely different dynamic, and for obvious reasons.
The Patriots have done their best to distance themselves from the former tight end in recent week. Team owner Bob Kraft said recently that he was "duped" by Hernandez less than a year after giving him a $40 million contract extension. The Pats also offered a free jersey exchange for fans wanting to swap their Hernandez jerseys, and quarterback Tom Brady told TheMMQB.com that he has "moved on" from Hernandez and is “focusing on the great teammates I have who are committed to helping us win games."