Bill Belichick, head coach of the NFL’s New England Patriots, turned down the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday, citing last week’s deadly storming of the Capitol by a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters.
“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. Subsequently, the tragic events of last week occurred and the decision has been made not to move forward with the award,” he said in a statement. “Above all, I am an American citizen with great reverence for our nation’s values, freedom and democracy.”
Trump granted Belichick the medal amid a larger show of presidential ceremony in the waning days of his presidency. The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor in the country, and Belichick would have joined Rep. Jim Jordan and professional golfers Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player in receiving the award in the days following the Capitol attack.
But Belichick had been fielding calls to decline the award in light of last week’s violence — which has led to demands for Trump’s ouster from members of his own party and a second movement to impeach within the House — with particular outcry from Massachusetts.
“I would be beyond disappointed as one person, as one admiring fan, if he did accept it,” Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone told POLITICO on Monday night.
“Bill Belichick is one of the finest coaches in the NFL. I disagree with his politics, but this is so beyond politics. The dangerous behavior which resulted in deaths that was really instigated by Donald Trump last week alone, should disqualify any person with any conscience of being with that man and accepting this medal,” Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley told POLITICO in an interview.
“He should just say no,” Sen. Ed Markey said during a GBH radio interview on Monday.
“I would refuse it if I were Bill Belichick. This president has made a mockery of the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Rep. Jim McGovern said on CNN.
The coach was also the subject of a pair of opinion columns in The Boston Globe on Monday afternoon, which warned he should not bend to his own “stubbornness” and “personal pride” by going to the White House.
It’s not unusual for the president to grant the nation’s top honor to a sports figure. President George H.W. Bush gave the medal to former Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams, for example. But Trump has awarded more than half of his Presidential Medals of Freedoms (14 of 24) to sports figures. And the president’s ties to the New England Patriots run deep. Team owner Bob Kraft is a friend of Trump, and has made a number of appearances at the White House.
But the conditions Trump would have granted the honor under — impeachment and insurrection — are what has sparked particular backlash.
Trump has a particular fondness for Belichick, and has even said he would turn to the Patriots coach for advice if he were ever in a military battle. Belichick told radio station WEEI he was “flattered” but would stick to football. Trump also appointed Belichick to his Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition.
The Patriots went to the White House after their 2017 Super Bowl victory, though some players declined the invitation due to their opposition to Trump. The team did not return after winning the Super Bowl again in 2019, citing scheduling conflicts.
The White House was notified of Belichick’s decision to decline Monday morning, according to a White House official.
Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.