Widely considered the greatest head coach of all time, Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots declined the opportunity to accept the Medal of Freedom from former President Trump following the attack on the United States Capitol Building on Jan. 6. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award, granted to “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Previous recipients of the award include the likes of Rosa Parks, Joe Biden, Oprah Winfrey and Mother Theresa. Although former presidents have awarded the Medal of Freedom to some professional athletes and coaches, over half of President Trump’s recipients are known for their accomplishments in the sports world.
Over his storied 46-season career, Belichick has made a notable impact on the field, garnering a resume second to none. As the head coach of the Patriots, Belichick helped to create a dynasty in New England with quarterback Tom Brady, tying the NFL franchise record for Super Bowls with six victories. Belichick boasts a winning percentage of .678 with a career coaching record of 311-148. Off the field, Belichick’s most notable contribution to the sports world had been launching the Bill Belichick Foundation in 2013. The foundation aims to provide mentorship and financial support to those in need, with a focus on football and lacrosse players.
Despite the profound honor of the award, Belichick declined the offer after the attack on the Capitol Building by Trump supporters who claimed illegitimacy in the presidential election. “The tragic events of last week occurred, and the decision has been made not to move forward with the award,” Belichick wrote in a statement. “Above all, I’m an American citizen with great reverence for our nation’s values, freedom and democracy,” he continued.
Belicheck noted that Patriots players’ leadership in addressing social issues inspired him to turn down the honor. “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,” he said. “Continuing those efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country that I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award.”
President Trump has certainly been a polarizing figure within the sports world. Since 2016, a majority of professional teams have declined to attend annual championship celebrations at the White House in protest of the Trump administration. Belichick was one of very few prominent sports figures to publicly demonstrate support for Trump. However, like many of Trump’s longtime supporters, the violent assault on the Capitol was, for Belichick, a step too far.
The rejection of the award by Belichick may come as a surprise to some, considering the well-known close ties between the coach and the former president. Trump’s relationship with Belichick became publicly apparent during the 2016 election, when Belichick penned a letter of support for him. Belichick described his relationship with Trump as a “friendship [that] goes back many years,” while Trump himself called the Patriots coach a “very good friend.” The admiration apparently ran so deep that Trump has considered turning to the coach as a potential military adviser.
“He’s a very good friend of mine. He’s a winner,” Trump told Hugh Hewitt during a radio interview last August. “You know, if I ever had a military battle, I’d call up Belichick and say, ‘what do you think? What do you think? Give me a couple of ideas.’”
Belichick, whose father was a scout for the Naval Academy, has no military experience, but he expressed appreciation for Trump’s compliment. “I am flattered by that,” Belichick told Boston radio station WEEI, “but I’ll just stick to coaching football.”
Belichick’s choice to decline the nation’s highest civilian award was met with gratitude from players and fans throughout the league. Teddy Bruschi, who spent 14 seasons in New England and won three Super Bowls under Belichick, expressed respect for his former coach’s decision. “Proud to have played for this man,” Bruschi tweeted in response to the news.