New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick announced Monday night that he will not accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying “remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award.”
In a delicately worded, one-paragraph statement, the six-time Super Bowl-winning coach did not say explicitly that he had turned down the offer from President Donald Trump, whom he has called a friend. Instead, Belichick explained, “the decision has been made not to move forward with the award” in the wake of last week's deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol.
A White House official said on Sunday, four days after the riots, that Trump would be awarding Belichick the nation’s highest civilian honor — part of a late flurry of presentations that also included golfers Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player and the late Babe Zaharias.
Sorenstam and Player accepted their awards in a private ceremony the day after Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Five people died in the mayhem, including U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick. Belichick was to be honored on Thursday.
“I was flattered ... out of respect for what the honor represents and admiration for prior recipients,” the coach said in a statement, which was forwarded to The Associated Press by the Patriots.
“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.”
Although he describes himself as apolitical, Belichick has waded into politics on occasion.
The architect of the Patriots dynasty wrote Trump a letter of support that the candidate read aloud the night before the 2016 election at a rally in New Hampshire, a bastion of the team's fandom.
Although Trump said the letter offered “best wishes for great results” on election day and “the opportunity to make America great again,” Belichick said it was it was merely to support a friend.
Belichick also wore an Armenian flag pin to the White House in 2015 when the team celebrated its fourth Super Bowl victory — believed to be a sign of support for the team’s director of football, Berj Najarian, who is of Armenian descent. Last month, Belichick called on the U.S. government to take action against Turkey and Azerbaijan for “unprovoked and violent attacks against Armenians.”
In the aftermath of George Floyd's death this summer, Patriots players praised Belichick for providing an open forum for them to express their feelings on race and social injustice in America. In his statement on Monday, Belichick called that “one of the most rewarding things in my professional career.”
“Through the great leadership within our team, conversations about social justice, equality and human rights moved to the forefront and became actions,” he said. "Continuing those efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award.”
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