New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on Monday night that he will not receive 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 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, instead explaining “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.
“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 said in a statement, which was forwarded to The Associated Press by the team.
“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 wrote Trump a letter during the 2016 presidential campaign that the candidate read aloud at a rally in the days before the election. Belichick has said the two are friends.
Trump announced on Saturday that he would be awarding Belichick the nation’s highest civilian honor this week as part of a late flurry of presentations that also included three golfers: Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player and the late Babe Zaharias.
Sorenstam and Player accepted their awards in a private ceremony the day after the Capitol riot.
Over the last few months, Trump has been busy presenting the award — established by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 — to an array of favored coaches and political and media allies.
But news of the honor for Belichick came just days after an assault by the president’s supporters on the U.S. Capitol and hours before congressional Democrats announced they were planning to impeach him a second time for instigating the mayhem. And that led some to call on Belichick to reject the award.
And not only from the sporting world.
Maura Healey, Massachusetts’ attorney general, and Sen. Ed Markey called on the Patriots coach to decline the medal. U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, a Worcester Democrat who previously represented the Attleboro area in Congress, said accepting the award would be “disgraceful.”
He told CNN “Bill Belichick should do the right thing and say, ‘No thanks.’”
There were few Patriots fans around a cold, gray Gillette Stadium late Monday morning. At least one TV news crew was getting few takers as they sought comment outside the stadium’s pro shop.
Commenters on Facebook were less shy.
Of the nearly 90 replies to the paper’s social media query, it appeared a majority were against Belichick accepting the award, although some wondered why there was a controversy at all.
Peter Clark, who identified himself as an attorney from Attleboro, had one of the most extensive replies to a question, although it took aim at whether the award should go to a sports figure, rather than who was presenting it.
“Politics and the damage that Trump has engaged in against America notwithstanding, and even though Belichick is one of the greatest football coaches ever and that I love my New England Patriots, awarding him the Medal of Freedom, which is America’s highest civilian honor, is not an appropriate reward for winning 6 Super Bowls,” Clark wrote. “Awarding Belichick the Medal of Freedom, which usually goes to ‘real’ heroes, not only diminishes the value of the award, it cheapens and politicizes it as a form of payback for political support. Belichick should say thanks, but no thanks.”
Maureen Coleman, a teacher and counselor from Attleboro took aim directly at Trump. Should Belichick accept? “Absolutely not. Receiving a Medal of Freedom from someone who incited an armed assault on the Capitol building in an attempted coup, would bring disgrace on both him and the Patriots organization,” she wrote.
But Scott Giannetti of Wrentham said Belichick should not pay heed to the critics.
“He should go and not listen to all these people (who) say not to because you earned it Bill, and get your award. It should have nothing to do what the few dumb (people) did last Wednesday,” he said.