New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady chose his words carefully in his first news conference since Aaron Hernandez was charged with murder, acknowledging that while it was “a very tragic thing that happened,” his focus was on moving forward on the football field.
“It’s a terrible thing that happened,” Brady told a group of reporters at the team’s practice facility Thursday morning. “In the city of Boston this year with what happened at the marathon, these are very terrible things you wish never happened to anybody. There’s a very human, compassionate element that we all have, and when it’s someone that has been on our team, it’s a very sad thing.
“I think 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.”
Brady would not discuss his reaction when he learned of Hernandez’s connection with the murder, saying his feelings were “personal” and that his emotions “were probably like everyone else’s.”
“Everyone had a certain range of emotions, whatever they might have been,” Brady said. “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.”
Brady declined to comment when asked specific questions about Hernandez, saying he had been advised not to comment on his former tight end. He added, however, that the best teammates he’s had are players he never has to worry about being asked about in such a tragic context.
Hernandez is currently being held without bail after being charged with the murder of semipro football player Odin Lloyd.
As he did in his initial comments about Hernandez earlier this week, Brady stressed that he was focused solely on football.
“The best part is 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,” he said. “But we are going to move forward as best we know how.”
Some of the Q&A with Brady:
When first heard news about Aaron Hernandez, what was your initial reaction? Were you in shock?
“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 just have them and at some point I have to get back to doing my job. [My emotions], yeah they are important but they come and they go and they pass, and we still have, for me, a task at hand, which for me is what my responsibility to this team is and my responsibility to the teammates that I have. So I just try to focus on that and try to come out here this week and lead by example.”
How well did you think you knew Hernandez?
“I’ve had great relationships with so many guys. A relationship you have as a football player is a relationship you have within the walls of this building are what they are, and 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 just think that’s pretty much all I have to say.”
Did Aaron fit in the locker room from your perspective?
“I don’t think it matters at this point. I don’t think any of that really matters to me or matters to anything that’s going on with the legal process or anything like that.”
Will moving on and playing football help the team move on and heal and get over it?
“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 we try to do that the best way we know how. There is a very high standard that so many guys have set before I got here, when I got here. I learned from Drew Bledsoe, he was a guy I looked up to and 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 the captains out here today as role models. That’s usually a good example to lead by.”
Do you still think the Patriots Way exists?
“To win football games and represent the community? No question. I think that’s what we show up for every day here. Boston has a strong sense of community and that’s one part of the reasons why people, and I love being here, why this is my home. The community that exists, especially within the sports franchises. It brings so many people together. We’ve had such great success on the field over the last 12-13 years in all of our teams. So many people come out and support us. You’re in the community and you’re at the shopping mall and you’re at the gas station, and people are supporting you. It’s really a great thing to be a part of, to have that kind of support from everyone here. That’s who we go out and play for – we play for the people that come watch us and cheer for us and buy our jerseys. That’s a really cool thing and hopefully we can come out and do the same thing this year.”
Did Aaron reach out to you at all afterwards – apologize for any of the distraction? Did you have any communication?
“[Vice President of media relations] Stacey [James] told me that I can’t comment on any of that.”
Did you talk to him at all?
“Stacey told me … it’s a good question but I’m not supposed to comment on any of that.”
What did you think of the jersey buyback? Was it weird for you to see?
“I was in California at the time, so I wasn’t here that week. Surprised some other people had different reactions to that, but hopefully you can go out, there is a lot of good jerseys to get this year. A lot of No. 12 jerseys in there so hopefully they’ll go buy a few of those.”
What is morale like right now?
“It’s fun, it’s exciting. This is a new year for us. Last year didn’t end the way we would have hoped. So we have a chance to go out there and try to do a lot better this year.”
From the beginning to now, has it been a distraction at all?
“From my standpoint, zero. Kind of like most things at this point for me.”
For the team as a whole, do you think?
“I don’t know. I’m not much inside of everyone’s head. I try to focus on what I need to do and try to come out here and do the best I can do.”
Has it been personally hurtful for you to see the brand you worked so hard to put in a particular light be smirched a bit over the last six weeks or so?
“I think that everyone that has played here has played a part of what the New England Patriots are all about – guys like Kevin [Faulk] and Rodney [Harrison] and Larry [Izzo] and Mike [Vrabel] and Willie [McGinest], guys like that who are everything you want to be as a football player and off the field and on the field, people that represent the community and represent our city, Foxborough, Boston and everywhere in between. We realize that in light of the recent situation, those things get overshadowed and we have to work hard to re-establish what we’re all about, and that’s, like we said, to win games and to be the best representatives of this team and organization and representatives for this city that we can possibly be.”
You don’t have Rob Gronkowski. You don’t have Hernandez. What are you going to do at tight end?
“Can you play? Do you have anything left?”
Back in the day I could. Not anymore.
“Your dad [Ron Burton] was pretty good. We’ll see. I think Coach talks about your role being what you make of it, and there is a lot of tight ends – 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. You can think about all these different ways it can play out, but it’s going to come down to who goes out and performs the best.”
When you’ve had issues in the past that maybe created a distraction, roster turnover, is that when you rely on that trust in the locker room?
“You trust in your other teammates and you trust them to do their job so 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. It allowed me to be able to do my job. I never have to worry about Vince [Wilfork], I never have to worry about Jerod [Mayo], I never have to worry about Devin [McCourty] or Matthew Slater, or what their level of preparation is going to be. What that allows me to do is free my mental burden up so I can focus 100 percent on what I need 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.”
Your five leading receivers from last year, none of them will be on the field tomorrow…
“Well, there is quite a bit of turnover, like we all know and we’ve seen. I’m used to that. There is not many things I haven’t had to deal with over the course of my time – tight end, running back, receiver, offensive line. So 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 and practice against Philly. So I’m excited. We put a lot of work in the spring to see where we’re at now, and hopefully we can start building where we left off six weeks ago.”
You mentioned some of the guys you could trust. Was Aaron Hernandez part of that group at one point?
“I’m really not supposed to comment on Aaron. I wish I could. Thanks for asking.”
Does your leadership style have to change at all, along with some of the older guys, to help deal with this distraction?
“I think there are things we can all improve on. Certainly being more aware and the leadership of the team, all those things are to hold each other accountable to that. Like I said, we got elected as captains last year; the captains for this year haven’t been picked yet, but 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 how the team is feeling and what the team needs. There is no one who has better instincts than 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. Certainly our leadership and our ability to communicate with everyone on the team to get the best out of each other is something we can all work at.”
Is that an added burden to you?
“I think the more guys you have that you don’t have to worry about, and you can just trust to do their job, that’s the better the team is going to be. You can’t have 10 guys doing one thing and 10 guys doing another, and 10 guys doing another. Everyone, at some point, has to be going in the same direction. We’re going to get everybody going in the same direction and try to understand how we need to win football games, and certainly how we need to conduct ourselves off the field and 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 go out and try to do a better job.”
As much time as you spend with each other, does this type of situation show that as well as you might think you know someone, you really don’t?
“I think all those things; you all have relationships. I don’t know if you quantify those things – you have family members, you have friends, and 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 for the words that come out of their mouth and for the actions that take part. I’m certainly accountable to a lot of people here. I’m accountable to my family and 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 that I know how.”