Bill Belichick will not accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Trump, the Patriots coach confirmed in a statement to ESPN on Monday evening.
Though flattered, Belichick cited last week’s attack on the US Capitol and his team-first philosophies for not accepting the award, which is considered the highest civilian honor in the United States.
“Recently, I was offered the opportunity to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which I was flattered by out of respect for what the honor represents and admiration for prior recipients,” the coach wrote.
“Subsequently, the tragic events of last week occurred and the decision has been made not to move forward with the award. Above all, I am an American citizen with great reverence for our nation’s values, freedom, and democracy. I know I also represent my family and the New England Patriots team.
“One of the most rewarding things in my professional career took place in 2020 when, through the great leadership within our team, conversations about social justice, equality, and human rights moved to the forefront and became actions. Continuing those efforts while remaining true to people, team, and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award.”
In making his decision, Belichick avoids being in Washington during a week in which Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the House of Representatives will move forward with impeaching President Trump if Vice President Pence doesn’t seek to remove Trump under the 25th Amendment.
House Democrats introduced an article of impeachment Monday, charging the president with “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the attempted takeover of the Capitol.
Trump is not a popular figure in most NFL circles after criticizing players, including Colin Kaepernick, for their decision to kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest social injustice in America.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired!’ ’’ Trump said during a rally in 2017.
He doubled down last summer when the NFL was putting together its plan to play during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying he would rather the league not open “if they don’t stand for the national anthem.”
The Presidential Medal of Freedom 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.”
Belichick, who has served on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition since 2018, had been 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 Jan. 7, the day after the assault on the Capitol.
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 the six-time Super Bowl-winning coach 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, telling CNN, “This president is not fit to be in office, so anything he would bestow on anybody is meaningless.”
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 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 its 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, Steve, was a legendary assistant football coach and scout at the Naval Academy, is often referenced by the nation’s leaders.
Trump said last summer during an appearance on “The Hugh Hewitt Show,” 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 When you consider the type of leadership that he’s shown throughout his career and serving our country, it really means a lot,” he said.
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.