As the Aaron Hernandez situation was reaching its most surreal point, many feared the New England Patriots would not be able to move past the distractions the legal proceedings would cause. We don’t know how the 2013 Patriots season will conclude yet, but if Bill Belichick‘s press conference is any indication, the team is more than ready to move past the ordeal.
Belichick’s demeanor during the press conference was uncomfortable in how comfortable he appeared. There was limited fidgeting, no eye rolls and few cliches. This was obviously a special circumstance when Belichick would be on his best behavior toward the media. Belichick gave the media what they wanted and needed. Now it’s time for the Hernandez situation to go away for a while.
The Patriots can defuse situations like these because they don’t allow them to become distractions. It was wise for the team to plan this conference two days before training camp started. They have added another day of buffer by having the captains speak Thursday. The players will not be nearly as forthcoming about the situation, which Belichick warned. The players are not allowed to speak about ongoing legal proceedings and those involved in them. That means Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater and Vince Wilfork can be asked about Hernandez, but they won’t answer with anything other than “we were instructed not to comment about the people involved in ongoing legal proceedings.”
Obviously the media and fans would love to know if any of the players saw warning signs. If they knew what Hernandez was up to off the field. If they knew about who he was hanging around with or if they had ever met Odin Lloyd. But the Patriots know to stay away from those questions because, as Belichick has stated, winning trumps all.
The situation deserved respect, and Belichick and Robert Kraft gave it the attention it deserved. But football is about distraction and entertainment. The Hernandez situation can continue to be covered away from Gillette Stadium, but if it’s brought through those concrete walls, the Patriots will do their best to shut it down.
If anything, the Patriots were lucky this situation happened when it did, not to say that any time is a good one for a murder investigation. The murder occurred less than a week after minicamp had concluded. That meant the entire investigation and arrest happened while the Patriots were on a break, and no one was required to talk. By now, there are few details still coming out, and the media inundated Patriots fans with so much coverage that many are tired of hearing about the former Patriots tight end.
Had Hernandez been arrested a month or more later, the Patriots couldn’t have been able to avoid daily questions. Due to the timing, the Patriots can get away with one press conference from Belichick dedicated to Hernandez.
The next step for Belichick is to take players’ minds off Hernandez. That will come in the next few months during training camp. Even if Hernandez did not socialize with teammates off the field, he was constantly around the team in the locker room and on the field. Players will be interested to see what happens to Hernandez, but they can’t carry that with them on the field.
They know just as well as anyone how good of a player Hernandez was, but they, like the fans, have to move past the “woe is me” feeling of losing a great football player. Other players will step in and be put in situations to succeed.
There are pro sports organizations that would not be able to get past a situation like this. It could torpedo an entire season. But even if the Patriots haven’t had to deal with a circumstance as severe as this one, they have moved past distractions in the past and have the perfect coach to move them forward.
If the Patriots take a step back in 2013, it won’t be because Hernandez has them distracted. It will be because of the way the team is constructed and coached. Like with the press conference following Tim Tebow‘s signing, Belichick put his team in a good situation to move past the distractions (even if his tenor was appropriately much different this time).