Bill Belichick is a well known military historian after growing up in Annapolis where his veteran father was an assistant football coach at Navy for 30 years, who just turned down the nation’s highest civilian honor from the Commander in Chief. This is not a garden variety accolade, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award for “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” So for Belichick to decline the Medal of Freedom from the President of the United States is not something he took lightly.
After the shit show that was last week at the Capitol it would have been utterly impossible for Belichick to accept this award from the man who has become politically radioactive. Not to mention all the heat Bill has taken over the last few years for his friendship (and endorsement letter) with Donald Trump. After what we’ve seen in the last week along with the fierce opposition from NFL players who have publicly railed against the President the last four years, the blowback Belichick would have faced would have been immense.
Now you can argue that this is all bullshit and Belichick got bullied into declining the award, but it brings to mind something I always say to my own team: perception is reality. You can have the best of intentions (or not), you can think you’re in the right, but you need to be mindful of perception. The Patriots are coming off their worst season in 20 years, the United States Capitol was just stormed for the first time in 100+ years after the President whipped people into a frenzy, and the man that would be personally handing this award to Belichick just became the first President in the history of the United States to be impeached twice. Even the dumbest person in the room knows you don’t want to be associated with somebody accused of inciting an insurrection.
Yahoo’s Charles Robinson thinks the decision was more personal than business for Belichick.
“The league has been largely living inside its own bubble the past week where it concerns Trump, a bubble that was forged by past events and whose ideology is it’s better to ignore the things Trump says and does than to engage.
All of that makes what Belichick just did feel more personal. He could have accepted Trump’s honor as an outright show of support, or simply because Belichick doesn’t like to be told what he should be doing. Also because he could have simply said “no” without context. If anything, it’s more unprecedented for Belichick to explain himself. So the fact that he did so suggests he knows the gravity of the moment.
What Belichick said sounded personal to him, particularly his reminder that he is speaking as “an American citizen.” That sounds like someone who is making a clear prioritization. Yes, he wrote a letter to Trump in support of his presidential run in 2016. Yes, they previously had a long friendship that Trump likes to drop into conversations from time to time. But Belichick is complicated. He also has an appreciation of American history and a steeped family history in the military. And while he doesn’t engage politically very often in public, those who have known him for a long time suggest he’s as thoughtful about the foundational elements of democracy as he is about football.”
So maybe it was a come to Jesus moment for Belichick and he is now questioning his relationship with Trump or maybe it’s just an infamously shrewd strategic mind in Belichick reading the room and sidestepping what would have been an inevitable PR shit storm. Either way he deserves credit for putting the team before any personal accolades and not only declining the award, but going against his modus operandi and providing a detailed explanation as to why he made the decision.