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Bill Belichick declines Presidential Medal of Freedom

  • NEW YORK TIMES / 2017
                                President Donald Trump stands next to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick as he welcomes the Super Bowl-winning team to the White House in Washington.

    NEW YORK TIMES / 2017

    President Donald Trump stands next to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick as he welcomes the Super Bowl-winning team to the White House in Washington.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday that he had turned down the opportunity to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump because of the “tragic events of last week,” a reference to the insurrection at the Capitol.

In a statement, Belichick said he was flattered to be nominated for the award, the highest civilian honor in the country, because of its past recipients. But he said he has great reverence for “our nation’s values,” represents his family and the Patriots, and has worked with his players to combat social injustice.

“Continuing those efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country that I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award,” he wrote in a statement.

With just days left in his term, Trump had planned to give Belichick the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Thursday, setting off questions about whether Belichick would accept it after the riots at the Capitol last week plunged the country into a political crisis that could include Trump’s second impeachment.

There were calls for Belichick, 68, to decline the award, including on Monday from Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., who called accepting it “disgraceful.”

“Bill Belichick should do the right thing and say, ‘No thanks,’ ” he told The Hill newspaper.

Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., also said Monday that Belichick should turn down the award.

“That could be the day that Donald Trump is being impeached in the United States House of Representatives for inciting an insurgency against the United States,” Markey said of Belichick on Boston Public Radio.

After nearly a day of speculation about Belichick’s intentions, the Patriots released a statement from him Monday night. After saying that he was gratified to be considered for the award, Belichick said that after the “tragic events” last week, “the decision has been made not to move forward with the award.”

Belichick, who has won the third-most number of games in NFL history and a record six Super Bowl titles as head coach, has been a friend of the president for many years.

With time running out on his presidency, Trump has been leaning into sports, awarding medals to athletes. But after the attack on the Capitol, sectors of the sports world are having second thoughts about being associated with the president.

News of Belichick’s award surfaced Sunday, the same day that the PGA of America said it no longer planned to hold its 2022 PGA Championship at Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

“It has become clear that conducting the PGA Championship at Trump Bedminster would be detrimental to the PGA of America brand, and would put at risk the PGA’s ability to deliver our many programs, and sustain the longevity of our mission,” Jim Richerson, the PGA of America president, said in a video statement.

Still, few sports teams have been as closely associated with Trump as the Patriots.

The owner, Robert Kraft, has been a longtime friend of Trump, who often attended Patriots games before he was elected president. The team’s former star quarterback, Tom Brady, played golf with Trump.

Trump has leaned on his relationship with the Patriots throughout his four years in Washington. In 2018, he appointed Belichick to serve on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition. Belichick was reappointed to the council in December.

The year before, Trump made it known he was rooting for the Patriots in their Super Bowl victory over the Atlanta Falcons. The team accepted his invitation to visit the White House after the game, a ceremony that has grown more fraught in his term.

At the ceremony, Kraft gave Trump a personalized Super Bowl ring that included 283 diamonds, a nod to the 28-3 deficit that the Patriots overcame.

But Trump’s divisiveness has repeatedly put the Patriots in an awkward position, particularly in 2017. Just a few months after the team visited the White House, the president repeatedly criticized the NFL and its owners for not firing players who knelt during the playing of the national anthem to protest social injustice and police brutality against African Americans.

Two years later, after the Patriots won another title and many players publicly opposed the president, they did not make the trip to Washington because of what they said were scheduling conflicts.

Kraft has known Trump for decades and considers him a friend, but has also given money to Democratic candidates and liberal causes.

Brady, who is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, briefly kept a red “Make America Great Again” cap in his locker but removed it after being asked about it by reporters.

Belichick rarely speaks publicly about matters beyond football, let alone American politics. But he did break his silence to urge the federal government to support Armenians in their conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year. In a video posted on Instagram in October, Belichick asked for donations to the Armenia Fund. A few weeks later, he said he hoped that the United States would take action against Turkey and Azerbaijan “for their unprovoked and deadly attacks on Armenians,” according to The Boston Globe.

Belichick, though, did not call out the president, whom he considers a friend, by name.

Whether Belichick still considers Trump a friend after he urged supporters to storm the Capitol is not known.

Many presidents have given the Presidential Medal of Freedom to sports figures. Last week, Trump gave it posthumously to golfer Babe Didrikson Zaharias, as well as two other golfers, Annika Sorenstam and Gary J. Player, who played golf with the president in 2019. Former football coach Lou Holtz, golfer Tiger Woods and Mariano Rivera, the longtime New York Yankees reliever, are among a long list of others to receive the award from Trump.

The award is for “especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

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