FOXBORO, Mass.—As he strode, purposely as always, to the podium on the red level of the Gillette Stadium press box shortly before 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick had a choice to make about his first public comments since former tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged with murder.
Belichick could have stuck with his usual position—that he only talks about players who are on the team, and what’s in the past can’t be changed so it’s pointless to address it.
Instead, as he unfurled and read a two-page typed statement, Belichick took another route. We really shouldn’t be all that surprised. Because in every decision he makes about the Patriots, it comes to down to one factor: do what will put the team in the best position to be successful. By addressing the Hernandez situation head-on in a prepared statement that took almost exactly seven minutes, Belichick allowed the team and organization to begin the healing process and focus squarely on that they are paid to do, and that’s win football games.
Belichick did not shy away from the issues, and his candor lifted a burden and a tension that was palpable before the press conference. Having addressed the relevant questions—to the extent he could given the legal case—he showed that he is as wounded and shocked by the events as anyone within the organization or outside of it, if not more so. “It’s a sad day; it’s really a sad day on so many levels,” Belichick said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim. I extend my sympathy, really, to everyone that has been impacted. A young man lost his life. His family suffered a tragic loss and there’s no way to understate that.
“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.”
Belichick hit the right notes. He showed compassion for the family of the victim, Odin Lloyd. He portrayed embarrassment, anger and sadness that one of his players could be connected to such a heinous act. He showed resolve to do things better in the future to lessen the chances that something like this happens again.
“As the coach of the team, I’m primarily responsible for people we bring into the football operations,” Belichick said. “Our players are generally highly motivated and gifted athletes. They come from very different backgrounds. They’ve met 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, but 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.”
Belichick wasn’t just paying lip service. For those who have been around him on a day-to-day basis, you could tell this shook Belichick to his core as a person.
For many watching or listening at home, this was a new Belichick. But there are two Belichicks, or at least two perceptions of him. There’s the man who has a seemingly joyless pursuit of football excellence, reinforced by comically bland sound bytes, a grim sideline demeanor, and cold and calculated personnel decisions. But behind that, there’s a real person, one who can be funny, disengaging and sincere. If you’ve earned his respect, he’ll help you in any way he can. That Belichick truly does exist; he just doesn’t let the public see that side very often. Because it doesn’t help him win games.
But for the Patriots to have their best chance of success in 2013, with one of their former brothers locked in a cell less than an hour away, Belichick knew he had to give a glimpse under the hoodie, a glimpse into the real person. Now that everyone knows he’s been just as affected as them by the terrible events of the past five weeks, they can start building things back up together.