FOXBORO, Mass. — The NFL world wondered how the Patriots would handle the Aaron Hernandez situation once training camp started back up and so far, they’re approaching it head on.
Bill Belichick spoke for over 20 minutes on Wednesday and four of the team captains stayed on the practice field to talk with the media extensively. Vince Wilfork and Tom Brady spoke for over 15 minutes, while Jerod Mayo and Devin McCourty also discussed the situation as much as they could.
Check out Brady’s full transcript below.
Question: Can you explain the emotions that you went through when you heard about what happened with Aaron Hernandez and the couple weeks that followed after that?
Tom Brady: How long ago was that? About six weeks ago. I think everyone had a certain range of emotions, whatever they might have been but those were really personal and I dealt with them. At some point you have to move forward and I think we as a team are doing that. The best part is really coming out to start the football season and talk about what the challenges we have ahead of us and certainly it’s been a challenging offseason but we’re going to try to move forward as best we know how.
Q: Is this something that needs to be addressed so you can all move on?
TB: It’s a real life situation that everyone has had to deal with. Coach, those team meetings that we have, he always gives us a lot of information. That’s part of his role as head coach. As captains of the team, we take that information and try to do with it as we please. I think we’re just excited to be here, and really it’s a fresh start for all of us. I know the last six weeks have been distracting for a lot of people but I’d say for this team, we’re trying to focus on our job and what we have to do to come out and win football games. Certainly it’s a very tragic thing that happened; someone loses their life. But all those things were out of the players’ control here. We’re not really a part of that situation so I don’t think it does a lot for us to get too much involved in that.
Q: What were your emotions?
TB: It’s a terrible thing that happened. Look at the city of Boston this year, what happened in the marathon. Look, these are very terrible things that you wish never happened to anybody. There’s a very human, compassionate element that we all have and when it’s someone you know has been on our team, it’s a very sad thing. I think that we as a team have tried to move forward with better awareness and understanding of these types of things. Hopefully nothing like this ever happens again.
Q: How have you moved forward? Did Coach Belichick address you this morning?
TB: We’ve been away from each other pretty much this whole time. Today has really been the first day that everyone’s been together. The quarterbacks have been here for four days, the rookies have been here for four days so we’ve had plenty of times to meet with Coach Belichick but he’ll have his own message for the entire team. Everyone really takes the lead from Coach Belichick and Mr. [Robert] Kraft. I know they’ve commented on how they feel. I think we as players just try to follow their lead. Hopefully we can go out and do something that our community can really be proud of. I think that’s the important thing. We’ve had such great examples over the years, whether it’s Tedy Bruschi or Mike Vrabel or Troy Brown or Kevin Faulk, guys that have really worn this uniform and worn it well. Not only have we been successful on the field, but guys have committed so much of their time to doing things that are good in the community. This obviously is not a time where those things are recognized because there’s another situation to deal with but I think I’m still really proud of those guys that have worn the uniform and worn it well and hopefully have gone out and tried to make the city of Boston, all of New England, proud of what we do on and off the field.
Q: When you first heard the news, what was your initial reaction?
TB: Those feelings were just personal, you know. I’m sure they were probably like everyone else’s. It was six weeks ago so it’s hard to remember the exact emotion I felt but it’s probably what everyone else here felt. You have them and at some point I have to get back to doing my job and my emotions are, yeah they’re important but they come and they go and they pass and we still have, for me, a task at hand, what my responsibility to this team is and my responsibility to the teammates I have. I just try to focus on that and try to come out here this week and lead by example.
Q: How well do you think you knew Aaron? Do you feel fooled?
TB: I’ve had great relationships with so many guys. As a relationship you have as a football player, is a relationship you have within the walls of this building are what they are then people have their own life. I typically have great relationships with all my teammates so I’m hopefully pretty easy to get along with. I think that’s pretty much all I have to say.
Q: Did Aaron fit in in the locker room?
TB: I don’t think it matters at this point. I don’t think any of that matters to me or anything that’s going on with the legal process or anything like that.
Q: Does going on and playing football help everyone in the organization heal and get over it?
TB: Well that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to try to win football games and try to represent all of New England. I think that we try to do that the best way we know how. There’s a very high standard that so many guys have really set forth before I got here, when I got here. I learned from Drew Bledsoe and he was such a great example of what a person, how they should act on the field and off the field. Hopefully some of the younger players can look at some of these captains out here today as role models. That’s usually a good example to lead by.
Q: Do you still think the ‘Patriot Way’ exists?
TB: To win football games and represent the community? No question. I think that’s what we show up here every day for. Boston has a strong sense of community. That’s one part of the reasons why people, really, and I love being here. This is my home, because of the community that exists, especially within the sports franchises. It brings so many people together and we’ve had such great success on the field over the last 12 or 13 years and all of our teams. So many people come out and support us and you’re in the community and you’re at the shopping mall or you’re at the gas station and people are supporting you. It’s really a great thing to be part of, to have that type of support of everyone here. That’s who we go out and play for. We play for the people that come out and watch us and cheer for us and buy our jerseys. That’s a really cool thing. Hopefully we can go out and do the same thing this year.
Q: Did Aaron reach out to you at all afterwards?
TB: [Vice president of media relations] Stacey [James] told me I can’t comment on any of that.
Q: Have you talked to him at all?
TB: Stacey told me … that’s a good question but I’m not supposed to comment on any of those things.
Q: What was it like to see the jersey buyback?
TB: I was in California at the time, so I wasn’t here that week. So probably some other people have different reactions to that. Hopefully you can go out, there’s a lot of good jerseys to get this year, a lot of number 12 jerseys in there so hopefully you go buy a few of those.
Q: What’s morale like right now?
TB: It’s fun, it’s exciting. This is a new year for us. Last year didn’t end the way that we would have hoped so we have a chance to go out there and try to do a lot better this year.
Q: How much of a distraction was this?
TB: From my standpoint, zero – kind of like most things at this point for me.
Q: To the team?
TB: I don’t know. I’m not inside of everyone’s head so I try to focus on what I need to do and try to come out here and do the best I can do.
Q: Has it been personally hurtful for you to see the brand that you guys have worked so hard to put in a particular light besmirched?
TB: I think that everyone who has played here has played a part of what the New England Patriots are all about. The guys like Kevin [Faulk] and Rodney [Harrison] and Larry [Izzo] and Mike [Vrabel] and Willie [McGinest]. Guys like that that are everything that you want to be as a football player and off the field, on the field. People that represent the community and represent our city – Foxboro, Boston, everywhere in between. We realize that in light of the recent situation that people probably, those things get overshadowed. We have to work hard to kind of reestablish what we’re all about. That’s, like we said, to win games and be the best representatives of this team and organization and representatives for this city that we can possibly be.
Q: Can this level of adversity have an impact that brings the team closer together and gives it a stronger sense of purpose beyond winning games?
TB: I don’t think that anything, I think that what’s going to happen on the football field is here in six weeks when we start, certainly tomorrow when our first practice is. I said the other day, the fate of our season is going to be determined by the guys in the locker room and hopefully nothing else. That’s something that we’ve always made a strong commitment to. You talk about the Patriot Way and to me that means mental toughness and to me it means dealing with different situations and adversities over the course of a season and offseason and how you can put those things behind you and focus on your job. Look, I try never to be a distraction. I think I owe that to my teammates, to never be a person that someone has to comment on. That’s part of what Coach talks about. There are a lot of guys on one program. For all of us to act the same way and to not take away from what someone else is trying to accomplish. I think that’s the best example you can set. Certainly as an elected captain and a veteran player on the team, you try to do your job the best you can and you hope that the other guys can follow along. You realize that we’re going to have to work very hard at that and that’s a continuing process.
Q: What are you guys going to do at tight end?
TB: Can you play? Do you have anything left? Your dad [Ron Burton, Sr.] was pretty good. We’ll see. I think Coach talks about your role being what you make of it. There are a lot of tight ends, guys like Daniel [Fells] and Hooman (Michael Hoomanawanui) that have been here last year and certainly Jake [Ballard] and [Zach] Sudfeld that are going to have an opportunity to come out and find a role for themselves. That competition plays out on the field. That’s the best part, is you can think about all these different ways that it could play out but it’s going to come down to who comes out and plays the best.
Q: Do you rely on the trust in the locker room, with the preparation that Coach Belichick puts in with you guys and the atmosphere, to overcome distractions?
TB: Look, you trust in your other teammates and you trust them to do their job so that you can do your job. The best teammates that I’ve ever had, guys like Wes [Welker] or Deion Branch, I never had to worry about. That allowed me to be able to do my job. I never have to worry about Vince [Wilfork], I never to worry about Jerod [Mayo], I never have to worry about Devin [McCourty] or Matthew Slater, what their level of preparation is going to be. What that allows me to do is free my mental burden so I can focus 100 percent on what I have to do. That’s what I appreciate about guys like that. They allow me to be the best that I can be. When they can count on me, that’s what makes a great team, is when guys can count on each other. When you can focus 100 percent on what you need to do, that’s how you’re going to get the best out of yourself.
Q: Your five leading receivers from last year won’t be on the field tomorrow when you practice for the first time.
TB: There’s quite a bit of turnover, like we all know and we’ve seen. I’m used to that. There’s not many things that I haven’t had to deal with over the course of my time – at tight end or running back or receiver or offensive line. We’ll try to find a way to make it work. We have five or six weeks until our first game. We have nine practices until we go practice against Philly. I’m excited. We put a lot of work in this spring to see where we’re at now. Hopefully we can start building on where we left off six weeks ago.
Q: Was Aaron part of the group of guys you trust?
TB: I’m really not supposed to comment on Aaron. I wish I could.
Q: Through all of this and since you have such a young team, does your style of leadership have to change to deal with the distraction?
TB: I think there are things that we can all improve on and certainly being more aware and the leadership of the team, all those things are, to hold each other accountable to that. that’s what, like I said, we got elected as captains last year, the captains for this year haven’t been picked yet. Coach Belichick really relies on our input and we rely on each other to bounce ideas off of to really get a feeling for the team and for how the team is feeling and what the team needs. Coach Belichick, there’s nobody with better instincts on coaching than Coach Belichick. He knows exactly how to get the best out of us. I would say we’re always looking for ways to improve and certainly our leadership and our ability to communicate with everybody on the team to get the best out of each other is something that we can work on.
Q: Does that add to the burden of what you have to do?
TB: Yeah and I think the more guys you have, that like I said, you don’t have to worry about that you can just trust to do their job, that’s the better the team is going to be because you can’t have 10 guys doing one thing and 10 guys doing another. Everyone has to at some point be going in the same direction. We’re trying ot get everybody going in the same direction and trying to understand how we need to win football games and certainly how we need to conduct ourselves off the field within the community. Nobody puts more stress on that than Coach Belichick and Mr. Kraft and Jonathan [Kraft]. I’ve seen that for 14 years. We’ll just try to go out and do a better job.
Q: Does a situation like this show that as well as you might think you know somebody, you really don’t?
TB: I think all those things, you all have relationships and I don’t know if you quantify those things. you have family members, you have friends, you have your kids – how well do you know your kids? You try to do the best you can do but everyone is ultimately accountable for their own decision making and the words that come out of our mouths and for the actions that take part. I’m certainly accountable to a lot of people here. I’m accountable to my family, I’m certainly accountable to the community because I realize the role model that I am. I do take that as a very serious responsibility. I try to go out and represent this team and this organization the best way I know how.