After a few days of pressure from fans and Massachusetts members of Congress, Bill Belichick deflated the hopes of the White House for a feel-good distraction. Last night, the New England Patriots’ head coach declined an offer for a Presidential Medal of Freedom, explicitly citing the riot on Capitol Hill for his demurral:
“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,” Belichick said. “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 the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award.”
A White House aide had confirmed to The Washington Post that the ceremony was to be held Thursday. Belichick wrote a note to Trump expressing “friendship and loyalty” just before the 2016 election.
This might force me to feel a little sympathy for Belichick. While the PMoF is given out basically on presidential whim — perhaps more so in this administration than others — it still carries prestige and significance as the highest civilian honor one can receive from the government. Regardless of which president puts it around your neck, the honor remains the same, and it’s not interchangeable with any other such recognition. Belichick is passing on a unique honor.
Belichick is making the correct choice here, even if it does come under some public pressure. Had the Capitol riot never taken place, it would have been uncontroversial, but the context for such a ceremony has changed significantly since. It would have looked like a distraction by Trump from accountability over what happened and the role he and his allies played in ginning up mob outrage and then sending them down the Mall to the Capitol. In fact, one has to imagine that’s precisely what the White House had in mind in pushing forward with this presentation this week. And it was a smart plan, too, which is why the White House has to feel a little deflated that Belichick took a pass.
There might be other opportunities down the road, of course. One has to wonder whether the same Democrats in Congress who pressed Belichick to demur might now press Joe Biden to make a point of honoring Belichick in the near future with the same award. Until then, Belichick will just have to muddle through life with his eight Super Bowl rings and certain entry into the Hall of Fame. All kidding aside, though, Belichick deserves some credit for avoiding being used as a pawn in the last hours of the Trump presidency.