Boston: Bill Bellichick, coach of champion gridiron team the New England Patriots, has rejected the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying “remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award”.
In a delicately worded, one-paragraph statement, the six-time Super Bowl-winning coach did not say explicitly that he had turned down the offer from President Donald Trump, whom he has called a friend. Instead, Belichick explained, “the decision has been made not to move forward with the award” in the wake of last week's deadly siege of the Capitol.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick declined the honour in a delicately worded statement that did not mention Trump. Credit:AP
Three days after the riots, Trump announced that he would be awarding Belichick the nation’s highest civilian honour — part of a late flurry of presentations that also included golfers Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player and the late Babe Zaharias.
Sorenstam and Player accepted their awards in a private ceremony the day after Trump supporters stormed the Senate and House of Representatives. Five people died in the mayhem, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick. Belichick was to be honoured on Thursday.
“I was flattered … out of respect for what the honour represents and admiration for prior recipients,” the coach said in a statement.
“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.”
Although he describes himself as apolitical, Belichick has waded into politics on occasion.
The architect of the Patriots dynasty wrote Trump a letter of support that the candidate read aloud the night before the 2016 election at a rally in New Hampshire, a bastion of the team's fandom.
Although Trump said the letter offered “best wishes for great results” on election day and “the opportunity to make America great again,” Belichick said it was it was merely to support a friend.
Belichick also wore an Armenian flag pin to the White House in 2015 when the team celebrated its fourth Super Bowl victory — believed to be a sign of support for the team’s director of football, Berj Najarian, who is of Armenian descent. Last month, Belichick called on the government to take action against Turkey and Azerbaijan for “unprovoked and violent attacks against Armenians”.
In the aftermath of George Floyd's death this summer, Patriots players praised Belichick for providing an open forum for them to express their feelings on race and social injustice in America. In his statement on Monday, Belichick called that “one of the most rewarding things in my professional career”.
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