Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Bill Belichick backpedaled into right decision on top of a soapbox he’s never used

Bill Belichick arrived at the decision to not accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump eventually.
Bill Belichick arrived at the decision to not accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump eventually.
Image: Getty Images

It has come to Bill Belichick’s attention that he will not be getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Thursday at the White House.

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The New England coach, after enduring the kind of losing reserved for historically mediocre teams like the Dolphins or Chargers, was apparently all set to accept an award from insurrection-inciting President Donald J. Trump before the end of his term, which looks to be followed by a series of investigations into the Patriot spectator’s taxes, investments, mental health, potential crimes and an impeachment trial.

Legacy matters, and this medal would have only tarnished Belichick’s.

Belichick and Trump have been buddies, as my colleague and Ladies Room co-host Julie DiCaro so ably wrote before Belichick turned down the once-prestigious award. And being a famous Trump friend, or a political lackey, is all but the official criteria for nomination in these waning days of the Trump conflagration.

It was the right call, and plenty of people are happy to move on. To have Belichick represent the NFL in the White House after Trump made common cause with white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups in the hopes of overturning a free and fair election, in the middle of a pandemic that is killing 3,000-4,000 people a day, well it’s a lot.

“That could be the day that Donald Trump is being impeached in the United States House of Representatives for inciting an insurgency against the United States,” Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey said during an interview with Boston Public Radio, as reported by the New York Times.

It’s not going to happen, although Belichick’s statement raises a few questions.

To be absolutely clear, under no other administration would Belichick be up for this honor. He’s been an incredibly successful coach with six Super Bowls, but you don’t get into the Hall of Fame while you are still playing. It’s only by virtue of a friendship that he’d be getting it. Which would be enough for a truly honorable person to demur.

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There is the possibility that the White House didn’t consult with Belichick on the timing of the award and it might have been unexpected. The Belichick statement doesn’t make that clear and the Patriots media staff didn’t respond to a request for clarification.

But there is also the possibility that Belichick was compelled to turn it down.

In the wake of a coup, and we can call it that as former NSA advisor Fiona Hill so acutely wrote in Politico, it took Belichick days to cancel. And he did it with a statement filled with the passive voice and included some issues that have not been in his wheelhouse.

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Let’s take a look at the timeline. Belichick agreed to accept the award before last Wednesday’s coup.

“Subsequently, the tragic events of last week occurred and the decision has been made not to move forward with the award,” the statement reads.

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The decision has been made? By whom? And these “tragic events” weren’t a natural disaster, but a man-made one.

And there is this: “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.”

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He’s got a number of players with strong voices on that team, like safety Devin McCourty who said in June: “Racism has been alive in our country since the origin of the country, but people want to avoid it.”

If Belichick truly had been impacted by those conversations, how could he accept this award from Trump, who used tear gas to clear peaceful Black Lives Matters protestors from Lafayette Square this summer so he could hold a Bible upside down in front of a church he doesn’t attend?

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The optics matter to the NFL of course. The NFL couldn’t have Belichick as its representative in the White House knowing all this. But Belichick apparently didn’t have a problem accepting the medal invitation for those reasons before Wednesday.

Using the NFL’s social justice conversation as a reason to turn down this award is good in that it forces this discussion around the canceled acceptance to include the NFL’s newfound embrace of protest as a concept. This is the league that still doesn’t have quarterback Colin Kaepernick on a team after he knelt in protest of police violence in communities of color.

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Absolutely, let’s bring that up again.

But has Belichick been the coach to bring those issues up in a press conference before now? The Belichick coaching tree is predominantly white, as is his coaching staff. He’s not exactly Ron Rivera when it comes to this, so it’s impossible to know whether the hypocrisy of accepting the award was something he noticed, or was pointed out to him.

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Either way, it would have been difficult to stand in front of players like McCourty and speak about character and leadership with that medal hanging like an albatross around his neck. The medal would have been proof that he remained with Trump from “grab ’em by the p*ssy” through “we love you, you’re very special.” 

Still, I’ll take a calculated decision if not a heartfelt one.

“Above all, I am an American citizen with great reverence for our nation’s values, freedom and democracy,” Belichick said.

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And here is hopefully where we can all agree. We won’t end up with the sorry spectacle of an NFL coach putting a personal accolade ahead of his team just before Trump hits the tarmac.

It’s honestly a relief. This is such a bleak time for people who care about more than football. Our nation has been literally attacked, the rule of law challenged, our elections rhetorically assailed.

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Belichick ends up in the right place, however he got there.