Bill Belichick, the top coach of the National Football League (NFL), refused to accept the U.S. Presidential Medal for Freedom, the state’s highest civic honor, and said a deadly riot on Capitol Hill last week.
The six-time Super Bowl-winning coach said he changed his mind when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building – the seat of the U.S. Congress – bouncing around offices and leaving threatening messages.
“Above all, I am an American citizen who highly respects the values of our nation, freedom and democracy,” Belichick said in a statement Monday, adding that he represents his family and the New England Patriots team.
The coach, who previously said he was flattered by the opportunity to receive the medal, said he would continue to strive for social justice, equality and human rights, “while remaining loyal to the people, the team and the country I love, outweighs the benefits of each individual award ”.
Critics have blamed Trump’s encouraging speech for triggering the worst violence at the Capitol in two centuries. Five people died during the attack.
A White House official said Sunday, four days after the riots, that Trump would award the medal to Belichick – part of a late influx of performances that also included golfers Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player and the late Babe Zaharias.
Sorenstam and Player accepted the award at a private ceremony the day after the violence in Washington, DC.
Belichick’s decision, which has backed Trump in the past, is another blow to the increasingly lonely U.S. president. In recent days, some of his top advisers have resigned, citing violence Wednesday.
The news that Belichick has rejected the Freedom Medal has sparked a positive response on social media.
‘Congratulations, Bill Belichick. You did the right thing, ”Bob Ryan, a deserving sports columnist for the Boston Globe, wrote on Twitter.
Congratulations, Bill Belichick. You did the right thing.
– Bob Ryan (@GlobeBobRyan) January 12, 2021
Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern, who earlier called on Belichick to decline the awards, welcomed the move.
“This president is not fit for office, so anything I would give to anyone is pointless. Thank you, Coach Belichick, for rejecting the Trump award, ”the senator said on Twitter.
This president is not fit for office, so anything I would give to anyone is pointless.
Thank you, Coach Belichick, for rejecting the Trump Award. https://t.co/qyxWJT5VAd
– Rep. Jim McGovern (@RepMcGovern) January 12, 2021
Although he calls himself apolitical, Belichick occasionally went into politics.
In 2016, Trump read Belichick’s glowing letter along the way of the campaign, in which the coach praised his courage and leadership. Although Trump said the election day letter offers “best wishes for great results” and “an opportunity to do a lot for America again,” Belichick said it was just about supporting a friend.
Some fans have criticized the coach’s support for Trump, but it hasn’t affected his ranking among the players in the locker room. Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, is also friendly to Trump.
The U.S. president has long battled the NFL over players kneeling during the national anthem, a gesture first adopted by some black players to protest racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. Trump called on the league to ban players from “taking their knees” in protest.
Tightened relations between the team’s players and the president have occurred on various occasions, including in 2019, when the Patriots did not attend a regular White House event to celebrate winning the Super Bowl due to conflicting schedules.
After the death of George Floyd in the summer, Patriots players praised Belichick for opening a forum to express his feelings about race and social injustice in America.