New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick announced on Monday that he has declined to accept a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Trump, citing last week's deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol. Mr. Trump was set to give the highest civilian honor to the 68-year-old this week, a White House official had previously told CBS News.
A White House official told CBS News they were told about Belichick's decision before the Patriots released a statement. The White House declined to comment in response to it.
Belichick said in a statement obtained by CBS News that he was "flattered" to have the opportunity to receive the medal, but the storming of the Capitol, which many have accused Mr. Trump of inciting, changed his mind. ESPN was first to have reported on Belichick's statement.
"Subsequently, the tragic events of last week occurred and the decision has been made not to move forward with the award," he said. "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," he added. "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."
As Mr. Trump finishes out his final days as president, he planned to award the Medal of Freedom to Belichick on Thursday, a White House official told CBS News. Belichick, who has won six Super Bowls as the head coach of the Patriots, would have been the fifth public figure to receive the medal since a violent mob stormed the Capitol last week.
Three of the honorees — former golfers Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player and Babe Zaharias — were awarded the medal on Thursday, less than 24 hours after the riot. Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, a staunch Trump ally, received the medal on Monday.
Many of Mr. Trump's critics and lawmakers from both parties have blamed the president for stirring up the mob. House Democrats unveiled an impeachment resolution on Monday accusing Mr. Trump of "incitement of an insurrection" tied to the January 6 attack.
At least one local lawmaker said earlier on Monday that he believed Belichick should stay away from the medal. Congressman Jim McGovern, a Democrat representing Massachusetts, told CNN that Belichick should refuse it.
"Bill Belichick should do the right thing and say, 'No thanks'... To accept it as disgraceful," he said.
Mr. Trump thinks highly of Belichick and considers the legendary coach a friend. Over the summer, Mr. Trump praised Belichick and even joked that he'd seek him for military advice, after being asked whether Belichick or Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady had a better chance of winning the Super Bowl this year.
"This guy just knows how to win...You know, if I ever had a military battle, I'd call up Belichick and say what do you think? What do you think? Give me a couple of ideas," he told radio host Hugh Hewitt.
Belichick was also recently re-appointed to Mr. Trump's Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition in December, CBS Boston reported. The objective of the council is to "increase sports participation among youth of all backgrounds and abilities and to promote healthy and active lifestyles for all Americans," according to its website.
Kristin Brown contributed to this report.
First published on January 11, 2021 / 11:34 AM
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