President Trump plans to award New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick the Presidential Medal of Freedom in one of the final acts of his term, according to a White House official, cementing a long-held admiration of the coach but drawing him into the controversy over Wednesday’s violence at the capitol.
The ceremony will take place Thursday, the official said. Belichick will be the latest in an all-star lineup of sports legends to receive the medal from Trump. Just last week, Trump awarded it to golfers Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player and the late Babe Zaharias in a private ceremony the day after the deadly Capitol riot that the president incited.
A Patriots spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Established by President John F. Kennedy, the medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor. Presidents have sole discretion to award it to people “who have made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” according to the White House.
Belichick will be the fourth Boston sports legend to receive the award. In 2019, Trump gave it to the Celtics’ Bob Cousy. His teammate, Bill Russell, received it from President Obama in 2011. And Red Sox great Ted Williams was honored with the award by President George H.W. Bush in 1991.
Last month Trump appointed Belichick to a second two-year term on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition, and in a radio interview last summer suggested he was such a brilliant tactician he’d tap him for military advice.
“You know, if I ever had a military battle, I’d call up Belichick and say, ‘What do you think. What do you think? Give me a couple of ideas,’” Trump said on the Hugh Hewitt Show. The coach, who he described as a “very good friend,” would “be as good as any general out there,” Trump said.
In response, Belichick told WEEI that he was flattered, “But, I’ll just stick to coaching football.”
Trump also praised Belichick as the son of a Navy veteran when he and the team visited the White House in 2017 after their Super Bowl victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Belichick gave Trump a Super Bowl helmet at the ceremony.
“He’s just a very special guy,” Trump said of Belichick at the event. “He’s tough, he’s smart, and he’s got a great heart.”
Trump also told a story from the 2016 campaign, when he said Belichick wrote a “beautiful letter” congratulating him for his victories in the Republican primaries. When Trump asked to read the letter at a New Hampshire rally the night before the general election, Belichick sent him an even more glowing one to read, Trump said.
Trump read the letter at the rally in Manchester to cheers from the crowd.
“Congratulations on a tremendous campaign. You have dealt with an unbelievable, slanted and negative media and have come out beautifully,” Trump said Belichick wrote to him. “You’ve proved to be the ultimate competitor and fighter. Your leadership is amazing. I have always had tremendous respect for you, but the toughness and perseverance you have displayed over the past year is remarkable. Hopefully tomorrow’s election results will give the opportunity to make America great again.”
Trump and Patriots owner Robert Kraft have been friendly for years. Kraft contributed $1 million to Trump’s inauguration.
A violent and largely white mob of Trump supporters overpowered police, broke through security lines and windows, and rampaged through the Capitol on Wednesday, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were finalizing President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.
As a result of the deadly riot Trump incited, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday the House will proceed with legislation to impeach Trump as she pushes Vice President Mike Pence and Cabinet to invoke constitutional authority to force him out. Pelosi warned that Trump is a threat to democracy after the deadly assault on the Capitol.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.