Lone starts with a simple truth: Bill Belichick is a damn good football coach. Let’s take it further: After leading the New England Patriots to nine Super Bowls and winning six, Belichick has built a very strong case for being the greatest head coach in NFL history. Here’s another inevitable truth: Belichick has also earned a staggering amount of criticism in his 46-year career. So on Monday he did what many thought was unthinkable. Belichick, a tacit old-school curmudgeon who felt the opposite of the progressive movement that has opposed Donald Trump, rejected the president̵
Monday night, Belichick issued a statement saying he would pass the honor on. “Recently, I was offered the opportunity to receive the President’s Medal of Freedom,” the statement said, “which I was flattered by in respect of what honor represents and admiration for past recipients. Then the tragic events occurred last week and the decision is made not to go ahead with the award. ”
The passive voice in the statement, “the decision has been made,” suggests that this was not only Belichick’s call, but still he should be commended for ultimately doing the right thing. By rejecting Trump, Belichick is doing something that many of the president’s friends and allies have refused to do despite the events of the past week.
And make no mistake until Belichick until this moment has fully established himself as being in Trump’s corner. When Trump was on the campaign trail back in 2016, he proudly shared an embracing letter apparently written by Belichick. “Congratulations on a huge campaign,” it began in a language that sounded suspicious as Trump himself had written it. “You have treated an incredibly slanted and negative media and have come out beautifully. Beautiful. “Given Trump’s storytelling history, there was justified skepticism that Belichick had actually written the letter.
However, Belichick quickly declared his support for Trump. “Our friendship goes back many years,” he said, “and I think anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me knows that I am not a political person.” For someone like Trump who judges people on how lavishly they praise him, this alone was probably enough for Belichick to earn America’s highest civilian honor. Given how easily Trump gets slimmer, there’s a good chance that Belichick’s decision, no matter how delicately worded in this statement, has ended their friendship.
In addition to the personal consequences, Belichick has rejected what in most cases would be the country’s most prestigious honor. It’s not something you take lightly, and it’s an action that may well surprise Belichick’s critics, who have criticized the head coach for his “winner at all costs” mentality.
After all, the Belichicks Patriots have been at the center of two high-profile cheating scandals. Most notorious was the 2007 Spygate, in which the Patriots were punished for illegally taping their opponent’s signals, followed by the 2015 Deflategate. The latter was a decidedly foolish affair, one about which Belichick claimed complete ignorance, but it added fuel to the fire for those who would lay a star next to the entire Brady-Belichick-era Pats. How much the Patriots have benefited from these incidents is still an open question, but Belichick’s coaching strategy has clearly involved – to some extent – playing fast and loose with the rules. When I think about it, it’s possible that Trump saw him as a relative because of this, too.
In any case, even if he had not had these spots on his coaching career, Belichick’s publicity-facing personality would also have guaranteed him a place among the league’s least beloved figures. In addition to acting as head coach, Belichick is also involved in putting together the on-field product. There is a bit of sentimentality in Patriots country, Belichick GM does not hesitate to move on from even beloved players, whether he thinks they are due to a setback or simply want to be too big of a salary cap hit. He has also gained a reputation for being a on-site taskmaster.
The rest of the NFL landscape joined together this season to celebrate the Patriots’ first losing record since 2000. Some of this was due to sports fans growing to hate teams that win too often. Just look at the Golden State Warriors in the NBA as an example of a franchise that went from a bunch of lovable scrappers to a despised superteam for a handful of seasons. The truth is, though, that the biggest reason the Patriots did not like it, especially now that Tom Brady was out of the picture, was because of their head coach. It was not only that the Patriots continued to win, it was that Belichick did not seem to take any pleasure in the process.
In all likelihood, the private Belichick is a different person than any of these different versions of Belichick: whether it’s the curmudgeon who shows up at the press conference, the accompanying rulebender who haunts his opponent’s performances, or the cold-hearted businessman who swaps your favorite player yesterday if it saves him a nickel tomorrow. There are plenty of stories out there about Belichick off-the-field presenting him as being much more lovable than any of the faces he reveals to the public. Heck, there’s even a rumor that he has a bad sense of humor.
We may not really know anyone’s inner life, not with certainty, but we can judge them by their actions. In this case, Belichick has done the right thing. According to reports, Belichick was due to receive the medal in a private ceremony on Thursday, which would have been just over a week since a pro-Trump mob, egged on by the president himself, carried out an attack on the Capitol that led to the deaths of five people. The event has led to a belated inventory of how radical and dangerous the president’s more hardcore supporters have become.
Right now, in response, the House of Representatives is initiating prosecution against the president. It is under these circumstances that Trump, while his days in office are declining, essentially planned to use what is supposed to be the nation’s highest honor to pay one of his rich, famous friends back to say good things about him.
If Belichick accepted the medal from a disgraced future dictator days after a coup attempt, he would have validated the very worst accusations from his harshest critics. In an era where the NFL’s majority black corps has assumed white supremacy, Belichick would have forever joined a man who has done much to promote it.
Instead, Belichick took a stand that did not involve a small amount of personal sacrifice. At the very least, Belichick proved at least that his critics were wrong. The head coach concluded his statement by commenting on the Patriots’ commitment to social justice: “Continuing these efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweighs the benefits of any individual award.” Sometimes it turns out that it’s not about winning above all else.