Bill Belichik, the top coach of the National Football League (NFL), refused to accept the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civic honor in the country, citing last week’s deadly riots on Capitol Hill.
The six-time Super Bowl coach said he changed his mind after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building, the seat of the US Congress, robbing offices and leaving threatening messages.
“Above all, I am an American citizen with great respect for the nation’s values, freedom and democracy,” Belichik said in a statement issued Monday, adding that he represented his family and the New England Patriots team.
The coach, who said earlier that he was flattered to receive the medal, said he would continue his efforts working on social justice, equality and human rights, “while remaining loyal to the people, team and country I love. , outweigh the benefits of each individual award ”.
Critics accuse Trump̵
A White House official said on Sunday, four days after the riots, that Trump would award a medal to Belichik, part of a late flood of presentations that included golfers Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player and the late Babe Zacharias.
Sorenstham and Player received their awards in a private ceremony the day after the violence in Washington.
Belichik’s decision, which has backed Trump in the past, is another blow to an increasingly isolated US president. Several of his best advisers have resigned in recent days, citing Wednesday’s violence.
The news that Belichik refused the medal of freedom provoked a positive reaction on social media.
“Congratulations, Bill Belichik. You’ve done the right thing, “Bob Ryan, an honorary journalist with the Boston Globe, wrote on Twitter.
Congratulations, Bill Belichik. You did the right thing.
– Bob Ryan (@GlobeBobRyan) January 12, 2021
Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern, who previously called on Belichik to refuse the award, welcomed the move.
“This president is not fit to take office, so anything he would give to anyone is pointless. Thank you, Coach Belichik, for rejecting the Trump award, “the senator said on Twitter.
This president is unfit to be in office, so anything he would give to anyone is pointless.
Thank you, Coach Belichik, for rejecting the Trump award. https://t.co/qyxWJT5VAd
– Representative Jim McGovern (@RepMcGovern) January 12, 2021
Although described as apolitical, Belichik sometimes enters politics.
In 2016, Trump read a brilliant letter from Belichik during the campaign, in which the coach praised his courage and leadership. Although Trump said the letter offered “best wishes for great results” on election day and “an opportunity to make America great again,” Belicik said it was simply to support a friend.
The coach’s support for Trump was criticized by some fans, but did not seem to affect his position with players in the locker room. Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots, is also friendly with Trump.
The president of the United States is fighting a long battle with the NFL over players who knelt during the national anthem, a gesture first adopted by some black players to protest racial differences in the criminal justice system. Trump called on the league to ban players from “taking the knee” in protest.
Tensions between the team and the president surfaced on various occasions, including in 2019, when the Patriots did not attend a regular White House event to celebrate the Super Bowl victory, citing conflicting schedules.
After the death of George Floyd this summer, Patriots players praised Belichick for providing an open forum to express their feelings about race and social injustice in America.