It is not often that American sports, athletics and politics intersect with one another. However, throughout the past year, these two topics have influenced each other in a profound way, with movements such as Black Lives Matter finding public support in professional sports including football, basketball, baseball, and others. Furthermore, this past January, another major story concerning these two topics broke when it was announced that President Trump planned to deliver the Medal of Freedom, the highest American civilian honor, to New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. While presidents giving the honor to athletes and celebrities is quite common and typically accepted by the media, Belichick being awarded the honor garnered greater attention than usual as the news of President Trump’s desire to give Belichick the award was revealed just after the January 6th Capitol insurrection.
Although Belichick and Trump were known to be friends from before Trump’s presidency, Belichick has mostly abstained from discussing political matters in public. Prior to his plan to award Belichick with the honor, President Trump had expressed his great admiration for the coach’s football knowledge and commitment to the sport. Thus, while Trump’s desire to give Belichick the award is not surprising, the fact that Belichick would receive the award just days after the insurrection prompted both local and national media criticism.
Despite the great prestige associated with the honor, Belichick announced his intention to not proceed with receiving the award. Although athletes from different sports had accepted the honor from Trump in the days prior, those individuals met great media criticism, perhaps influencing Belichick’s decision. Yet the main reason Belichick cited for eventually not receiving the award was the efforts by the NFL and Patriots players to support the BLM movement this season. Belichick stated that the work by Patriots leaders such as captain Devin McCourty in attempting to inspire racial change deeply influenced him. This led him to reject receiving the award from President Trump.
Following Belichick’s decision, many former and current NFL players, including Tedy Bruschi, Adrian Clayborn, and Benjamin Watson, praised the coach’s judgement. Furthermore, Belichick’s decision to reject the award likely further cemented the level of admiration and respect held towards Belichick by many players, coaches, and other individuals throughout the NFL.