On Wednesday afternoon, New England head coach Bill Belichick faced the media for the first time in the wake of the arrest of former Patriot Aaron Hernandez. And he immediately quelled concerns that he wouldn't address the topic by starting with a lengthy opening statement, beginning with thoughts for the late Odin Lloyd.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with family of the victim," he said. "We extend sympathy to everyone who's been impacted. A young man lost his life, and his family suffered a tragic loss. There's no way to understate that."
Belichick indicated that he was "shocked and disappointed" to learn that Hernandez was connected to the Lloyd investigation. Soon afterward, he and Patriots officials discussed their options, and indicated that they moved decisively as a group to release Hernandez.
He further stressed that he believes Patriots should "represent the community the right way, both on and off the field," and that he aims to build a team that is a "pillar of the community."
After saying "Aaron Hernandez" once at the start of the press conference, Belichick repeatedly avoided mentioning Hernandez by name. He noted that players come from many different backgrounds, and the team evaluates such players on a case-by-case basis. "Most of those situations have worked out. Some don't."
He addressed criticisms that the team did not adequately research backgrounds by stressing that the team investigates all elements of a player's upbringing, including his improvement, in determining whether a player can be a good fit, and whether a player projects forward to fit in. "Obviously," he said, "the system is far from perfect ... this situation is not a good one on that record."
Belichick closed off the opening statement by indicating that he would not be addressing the ongoing case, and that he would "address the subject once" and then "move forward." And then he shut down question after question about Hernandez, even those about his character or his history with the Patriots, by indicating that he would not talk about individuals (i.e. Hernandez) involved in the ongoing case.
Only minutes before Belichick spoke, Hernandez's college coach Urban Meyer, then the coach of Florida and now at Ohio State, was at a podium of his own. He spoke briefly about Hernandez, and specifically the idea of criticism of him and the Florida program for not doing enough to discipline Hernandez at the time.
"When the focus gets taken away from great players and great coaches, it bothers you a little bit," Meyer said. "But you've got to move on, and we have."
Clearly, Belichick understood that he had to address the Hernandez situation. But he did it on his own terms, and he did so in a way that slams the door on any obligation to answer further questions.
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