Bill Belichick chooses legacy over Medal of Free­dom

Nancy Ar­mour col­umn: With prin­ci­pled stand, the Pa­tri­ots’ coach spoke vol­umes.

- Nancy Ar­mour Colum­nist USA TO­DAY US Politics · Politics · NFL Football · American Football · Sports · Bill Belichick · United States of America · NFL · Donald Trump · Mike Pence · Nancy Pelosi · Joe Biden · Muhammad Ali · Michael Jordan · Bill Russell

There are some calls that are ob­vi­ous. That doesn’t make them any less sig­nif­i­cant.

Cit­ing the in­sur­rec­tion at the U.S. Capi­tol last week that left five peo­ple dead and our democ­racy shaken, Pa­tri­ots coach Bill Belichick an­nounced Mon­day that he will not ac­cept the Medal of Free­dom. While putting coun­try first might not seem par­tic­u­larly no­ble, it’s more than NFL own­ers and the league have done.

A lot of mem­bers of Congress, too. “I am an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen with great rev­er­ence for our na­tion’s val­ues, free­dom and democ­racy,” Belichick said in a state­ment, re­ported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Belichick is one of the shrewdest coaches there is, with six Su­per Bowl ti­tles to prove it. (He has an­other two from his days as a de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor with the Gi­ants.) He had to know both that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was try­ing to use the Medal of Free­dom pre­sen­ta­tion as a smoke­screen and that his rep­u­ta­tion would never re­cover if he went along with it.

Imag­ine try­ing to ex­plain him­self to his play­ers, about 70% of whom are Black. Belichick would never again be able to com­mand the re­spect of his locker room, and the tight­fisted con­trol he has wielded so suc­cess­fully for more than two decades would evap­o­rate.

This isn’t sim­ply a mat­ter of dif­fer­ing opin­ions. Ath­letes and coaches nav­i­gate those all the time, and Belichick’s past sup­port of Trump is hardly a se­cret. Nor is the fact some NFL own­ers have been among Trump’s most ar­dent back­ers – which might ex­plain the deaf­en­ing si­lence of both the league and the team own­ers.

But this is no longer about pol­i­tics. The in­va­sion of the Capi­tol last Wed­nes­day, and the re­luc­tance of some of our lead­ers to con­demn it, has dam­aged the very foun­da­tion of this coun­try.

The images of mostly white Trump sup­port­ers van­dal­iz­ing the Capi­tol, beat­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer as he lay face down, and threat­en­ing to kill Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are hor­ri­fy­ing. That it was in­cited by the pres­i­dent, be­cause he sim­ply can­not bear the idea that he lost the elec­tion, is ap­palling.

A ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans want Trump re­moved from of­fice, even if there are only a few more days un­til Joe Bi­den is in­au­gu­rated. Cor­po­ra­tions are rush­ing to dis­tance them­selves both from Trump and the toad­ies still do­ing his bid­ding. It is not a time for smil­ing photo ops.

The Medal of Free­dom is this coun­try’s high­est civil­ian honor, pre­vi­ously awarded to Amer­i­can icons such as Muham­mad Ali, Bill Rus­sell and Michael Jor­dan. No doubt Belichick would have been proud to ac­cept it un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances.

But to do so now would be seen as an ex­pres­sion of sup­port for Trump and his mon­strous ac­tions, and that as­so­ci­a­tion would taint Belichick for­ever. It also would make a farce of the NFL’s so­cial jus­tice ef­forts, in­clud­ing the $95 mil­lion in grants the league awarded just last week – a point not lost on Belichick.

“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 in his state­ment. “Con­tin­u­ing those ef­forts while re­main­ing true to the peo­ple, team and coun­try I love out­weighs the ben­e­fits of any in­di­vid­ual award.”

Belichick is not a man of many words. With this prin­ci­pled stand, he spoke vol­umes. If only others – in the NFL, in Congress – had the courage to do the same.

 ?? TROY TAORMINA/USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Pa­tri­ots coach Bill Belichick an­nounced Mon­day that he will de­cline the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom honor.
TROY TAORMINA/USA TO­DAY SPORTS Pa­tri­ots coach Bill Belichick an­nounced Mon­day that he will de­cline the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom honor.
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