Bill Belichick is in line to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Trump Thursday, the White House confirmed, though it remains unclear whether the Patriots coach will accept.
The Patriots did not respond to a request for comment.
The ceremony, which likely will be private and without media coverage, similar to recent honors (Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan received the medal Monday), is scheduled just days after the US House of Representatives began debating whether to impeach Trump following last week’s attack on the US Capitol.
The honor has Massachusetts roots, with President Kennedy creating it in 1963 to honor those who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.’'
It is considered the highest civilian honor in the United States.
Belichick, who has served on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition since 2018, is the latest sports figure tapped by Trump for the award.
Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz was honored recently, and golf legends Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Gary Player, and Annika Sorenstam were feted last Thursday, the day after the assault on the Capitol. The awards traditionally are presented publicly, though since losing his bid for reelection, Trump has taken them private.
Belichick learned of the honor prior to the attack on the Capitol, according to profootballtalk.com. Reaction to the White House announcement was swift, with Massachusetts lawmakers calling for Belichick to decline the invitation.
“He should just say no,” Senator Ed Markey told Boston Public Radio. “That could be the day Donald Trump is being impeached by the United States House of Representatives for inciting an insurgency against the United States. So, Bill Belichick is the greatest football coach of all time . . . but that is not the right day to be accepting the Medal of Freedom award.”
Representative Jim McGovern also urged Belichick to decline it and said he would “be very disappointed,” if the coach accepted.
“This president is not fit to be in office, so anything he would bestow on anybody is meaningless, and to accept it is disgraceful,” McGovern told CNN.
Belichick and Trump have had a longtime friendship, and the latter shared a letter the coach wrote to him — with Belichick’s blessing, Trump said — during his successful campaign in 2016.
“Congratulations on a tremendous campaign,” Trump read to a crowd in Manchester, N.H., the day before the election. “You have dealt with an unbelievable slanted and negative media and have come out beautifully. 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 you the opportunity to Make America Great Again. Best wishes for great results tomorrow. Bill Belichick.’'
A day later, during one of his weekly in-season meetings with reporters, Belichick explained that his letter was driven by friendship, not politics.
“I’ve received a number of inquiries relative to a note that I wrote Donald,” Belichick said. “Our friendship goes back many years and I think anybody that’s spent more than five minutes with me knows I’m not a political person. The comments are not politically motivated — I have a friendship and loyalty to Donald.
“A couple of weeks ago, we had Secretary of State [John] Kerry in our locker room. That’s another friend of mine. I can’t imagine two people with more different political views than those two, but to me friendship and loyalty is just about that. It’s not about political or religious views.”
Following the 2016 season, the Patriots won Super Bowl LI and the club visited the White House, where the president was presented with a jersey with the No. 45 and “Trump” on the back.
“Whether you’re trying to win a Super Bowl or rebuild our country, as Coach Belichick would say, ‘There are no days off,’ ” Trump told the crowd.
Citing scheduling conflicts, the club did not visit the White House following their win in Super Bowl LIII following the 2018 season.
Belichick, who grew up in the shadow of Washington, D.C., in Annapolis, Md., where his father was a legendary assistant football coach and scout at the Naval Academy, has been mentioned before by the nation’s leaders.
Trump said last summer during an appearance on “The Hugh Hewitt Show” that he wouldn’t hesitate to call Belichick for advice.
“You know, if I ever had a military battle, I’d call up Belichick and say, ‘What do you think? Give me a couple of ideas,’ " he said.
In response, Belichick told WEEI it was “a very nice compliment . . . I am flattered by that but I’ll just stick to football.”
Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller mentioned Belichick when addressing employees in November.
“As we embark on this clear path forward, I often reflect on the simple, yet powerful, leadership mantra of the incomparable football coach, Bill Belichick: ‘Do your job,’ ” Miller wrote. “We are a team and that should be the mind-set. Focus on your assignment. Complete the task at hand.”
The coach was flattered by the mention.
“I appreciate the kind words from Secretary Miller,” he said. “When you consider the type of leadership that he’s shown throughout his career and serving our country, it really means a lot.”