“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.
Leaders of the NFL Players Association expressed support for Belichick on Tuesday.
“Bill and I don’t share a lot of words,” said DeMaurice Smith, the union’s executive director. “I know that’s going to come as a shock to everybody. But I thought that certainly his position was, I think, extremely important at this moment, for a person who has an extremely high profile in the National Football League. And, frankly, I thought his statement was spot on.”
Smith said it was significant that Belichick mentioned his discussions with his players.
“He referenced standing with the players,” Smith said during a video conference call with reporters. “He referenced the conversations that have gone on in his locker room about social justice. And while he recognized that it was an award that has honored a number of extremely deserving people in the past, he felt that, at this time and at this moment in history, that he should decline.”
The NFLPA also condemned last week’s violence and the actions of some political leaders, without mentioning any by name.
“I just felt that we’re at a point now where we can certainly cheer about football and certainly cheer about what our members and the league have been able to accomplish this season,” Smith said. “But when we find ourselves having to question the loyalty of certain people toward our country, the oaths that they’ve taken to support our country, I think those are important questions for us to ask and certainly answer. ... We have not achieved in any way, shape or form a post-race America. And we now know that there are people out there who will continue to challenge what it means for this democracy to actually function.”
Said JC Tretter, a center for the Cleveland Browns who is the NFLPA’s president: “We saw a sad day, a frightening day and an embarrassing one. It’s something [where] we need to be better. We need better from our elected leaders at this point. We are experiencing an extreme lack of leadership. And leaders are tasked with telling their constituents the hard truths, not what they want to hear. And right now we have a lot of those elected leaders who are very much caught up in what is best for their political career, what’s best for furthering themselves, and not what’s best for this country.”
In the waning days of his administration, Trump has chosen several sports figures to receive the Medal of Freedom, including former football coach Lou Holtz, who supported Trump during his 2016 campaign. The day after last week’s violence at the Capitol, he gave the award to golfers Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player and the late Babe Zaharias. In the past, the medal has been presented to recipients in a ceremony, but presentations since Trump’s election loss have taken place privately.
The Medal of Freedom, created by John F. Kennedy in 1963, is awarded to individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” The honor for Belichick was to come as the House of Representatives considers whether to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
After Belichick’s announcement, former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi wrote on Twitter, “Proud to have played for this man.”
In Massachusetts, the announcement of the award drew the kind of non-football-related scrutiny to which the six-time Super Bowl-winning coach is unaccustomed.
“I would refuse it if I were Bill Belichick,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), whose district is in central Massachusetts, told CNN before Belichick’s announcement. “This president has made a mockery of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Look at who he has given it to in the last weeks: people like [Republican congressmen] Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan. I mean, please. Bill Belichick should do the right thing and say, ‘No, thanks.’ ”
McGovern added earlier that he would be “very disappointed” if Belichick were to accept the medal.
“This president is not fit to be in office so anything that he would bestow on anybody to me is meaningless and to accept it is disgraceful,” he said.
Belichick has served on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition since 2018.
As he campaigned the day before the Nov. 8, 2016, election, Trump shared Belichick’s letter in a campaign appearance in Manchester, N.H., telling the crowd that Belichick had agreed to this rare glimpse into his personal correspondence.
“Congratulations on a tremendous campaign,” Trump read. “You have dealt with an unbelievable slanted and negative media and have come out beautifully. You’ve proved to be the ultimate competitor and fighter. Your leadership is amazing. I have always had tremendous respect for you, but the toughness and perseverance you have displayed over the past year is remarkable. Hopefully tomorrow’s election results will give the opportunity to Make America Great Again. Best wishes for great results tomorrow, Bill Belichick.”
During a regular midseason news conference with reporters on the day after the election, Belichick was peppered with questions, forced to do the rarest and most uncomfortable thing for him by pulling back the curtain a wee bit and revealing information completely unrelated to an upcoming game.
“I’ve received a number of inquiries relative to a note that I wrote to Donald on Monday,” he said. “Our friendship goes back many years and I think anybody that’s spent more than five minutes with me knows I’m not a political person. The comments are not politically motivated. I have a friendship and loyalty to Donald. … I write hundreds of letters and notes every month. [It] doesn’t mean I agree with every single thing that every person thinks about politics, religion or other subjects.
“I have multiple friendships that are important to me. That’s what that was about. It’s not about politics. It’s about football.”
Belichick, the son of a beloved and longtime football scout at the Naval Academy, generally restricts his outside-football activities to his foundation, which provides scholarships and grants to help underprivileged youth participate in sports. He has also spoken out about Armenia and supported causes related to the military.
After the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2017, the coach and his team visited the White House, something some other teams have declined to do after winning championships during Trump’s presidency.
John Wagner contributed to this report.