Belichick defends Patriots' way

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Four weeks after Aaron Hernandez was escorted out of his home in handcuffs, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick stood before a room full of reporters and spoke for the first time since his former player was charged with first-degree murder.

The Wednesday press briefing came two days before the start of training camp and was designed to specifically address the issue that's been hanging over the franchise for a month. Belichick read a prepared statement in which he offered sympathy to the family of murder victim Odin Lloyd and attempted to explain how the Patriots could have employed a man now accused of homicide.

Belichick took questions, but offered few insights as he insisted that he was limited by the ongoing criminal investigation. But after weeks of silence, he defended his organization and how it does business.

"I, since I got here in 2000, have always emphasized the need for our team and our players and our organization to represent the community the right way, both on and off the field," Belichick said. "And we've worked very hard together over the past 14 years to put together a winning team that's a pillar in the community. This case involves an individual who happened to be a New England Patriot. We certainly do not condone unacceptable behavior, and this does not in any way represent the way the New England Patriots want to do things."

Earlier Wednesday, Patriots defensive back Alfonzo Dennard was in a Nebraska courtroom for an arraignment on charges of violating probation relating to a DUI arrest.

Dennard will be at training camp this week. Hernandez was released within hours of his arrest.

But off-the-field behavior has drawn attention for the Patriots, whose system of evaluating players has been criticized.

"As the coach of the team, I'm primarily responsible for the people that we bring into the football operation," 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 have done things to get here. Sometimes they've made bad or immature decisions, but we try to look at every single situation on a case-by-case basis, and 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."

Belichick was out of the country on vacation when Hernandez was arrested. Owner Robert Kraft spoke to select reporters earlier this month and said he was "duped" by Hernandez.

Although Belichick said in his 7-minute, 22-second opening statement that he agreed "100 percent with the comments that Robert has already made on the situation," he wouldn't respond to a question about whether he, too, felt duped.

"I'll refrain from making any more comments on any ongoing people involved in the judicial process," Belichick said.

Wearing shorts, sneakers, a Patriots pullover and with a pencil resting on his right ear, Belichick spoke with a tinge of emotion during his opening remarks. He mentioned Hernandez by name in his first sentence and it was the last time he did so.

"I'm going to address the situation involving Aaron Hernandez today," Belichick said as he began his remarks. "Felt that it was important enough to do that prior to the start of camp. It's a sad day, really a sad day on so many levels. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim. ... A young man lost his life and his family suffered a tragic loss. There's no way to understate that."

During the question-and-answer portion, Belichick continually said that the ongoing legal investigation prevented him from commenting on specifics and that he has advised his players to do the same.

"I know that there are a lot of questions — fair questions — about this subject and related subjects," Belichick said. "Not trying to make the story disappear, but I respect the judicial process. Got a system (of) justice that deals with criminal charges and, ultimately, the judge or the jury will determine the accountability."

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