The book on Aaron Hernandez‘s career with the Patriots is closed. Bill Belichick delivered the epilogue Wednesday afternoon with more words and emotion than what was expected.
The jerseys have been returned and recycled, the football cards have been torn up by New England young people who have been told as many grisly details as their parents deemed necessary. Hernandez’s bio has been removed from the team website, his name has been taken off the depth chart and his locker has been cleaned out.
It’s time to move on from Hernandez until his trial starts and focus on football, which officially returns to New England on Friday when the team holds its first training camp practice. The head coach said it best: “It’s time for the New England Patriots to move forward.”
Don’t expect Belichick or anyone with the Patriots to address the situation further. Hernandez has been cut from the team and, in classic Patriots fashion, the coaches and players will only talk about the men that are on the roster from here on out.
Tom Brady told Peter King of Sports Illustrated that he has moved on from the situation. The Patriots will stress that above all else in the coming days, weeks and months.
Belichick was able to get out of discussing specifics by stressing he can’t discuss the people involved in an ongoing legal proceeding. Even with that excuse to rely on, Belichick was more forthcoming than expected. He read from a prepared statement for seven minutes, then answered questions from the heart.
It was a different Belichick than the New England media is accustomed to seeing. There were no grunts, no cliches and even two light moments. Belichick didn’t say he was sorry — and he didn’t have to — but he did say that, as the team’s head coach, he’s responsible for the players who are on the team.
Belichick said he’s proud of the hundreds of players who have come through the facility since he started coaching in 2000. The team takes certain risks, and sometimes they don’t pay off. Belichick said that Hernandez does not represent the Patriots organization.
Belichick would not get into specifics about whether the team would change how it evaluates players coming out of college. He said there have been discussions about it, but nothing is concrete. The team will not have to get into that until after the season is over in January or February.
Ultimately, the press conference was a good decision for the Patriots. They chose a few hand-picked media outlets to cover Robert Kraft‘s statements on the situation and got Belichick’s presser out of the way before training camp officially starts. Players arrive Thursday, and the first practice open to the media is Friday. They were wise to schedule the circus two days before players had to get on the field. If anything, the captains who will speak Thursday will likely further defuse the situation by refusing to comment on Hernandez.
Belichick couldn’t handle the Hernandez situation like he handled Tim Tebow‘s arrival. Had he treated it the same way, many would have criticized the head coach for being disrespectful. Instead, Belichick treated the situation and the media members with the respect it and they deserved: by jumping into it headfirst and answering the questions he thought he could.
This has not been an easy situation to deal with for anyone involved, but the Patriots have handled it the right way, from cutting Hernandez as soon as he was arrested to Belichick’s press conference, which will likely be the last anyone speaks of Hernandez as a Patriot. There’s no need for the New England organization to continue to twist its name into the proceedings. The Patriots are a football team, after all, and it’s not the team’s fault that the unfortunate situation occurred.