In the last days of the Trump Administration, outgoing President Donald Trump is awarding several Medals of Freedom. One person slated to receive the award this week was none other than long-time Trump friend and ally, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. But at the last minute, and in the wake of the Capitol riots last week, Belichick has opted to decline the honor.
Bill Belichik Declines the Honor
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor that can be bestowed officially upon a civilian. When Belichick was named an intended recipient by Trump, no one was surprised. The successful coach of the New England Patriots has long been an ally and friend to the outgoing president, and Trump has even joked in the past that he would seek military advice from Belichick. In December, Belichick was re-appointed to Trump’s Council of Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition. He seemed a shoe-in to be a life-long Trump surrogate and ally.
However, the events of January 6th at the Capitol seem to have changed that. Belichick issued a statement that he would be declining the honor, not a common occurrence.
ESPN reports the statement; “Recently, I was offered the opportunity to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which I was flattered by out of respect for what the honor represents and admiration for prior recipients. 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 also know I represent my family and the New England Patriots team. 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.”
Although Belichick makes his position abundantly clear, he does not name the outgoing president in his statement. It’s possible he still holds affection and friendship for Trump, but was facing significant pressure to decline the honor. The future of their relationship remains up in the air, but Belichick isn’t the only sports giant to turn their nose up at Trump since the 6th. The PGA has cut ties with Trump as well, pulling out of agreements with Trump’s golf properties, an action which reportedly, “gutted,” the outgoing president in a way nothing else has.
Other Sports Figures Who Have Been Awarded the Medal of Freedom
Belichick is in good company as an intended recipient of the medal, even though he opted not to accept it. Here are some of the sports greats who have been recipients of the honor:
- Tiger Woods: the golf great was awarded the medal in 2019 by Trump.
- Babe Ruth: also a Trump honoree, Ruth was posthumously awarded the medal in 2018.
- Michael Jordan: honored by former President Barack Obama, Jordan received the medal in 2016.
- Muhammad Ali: the boxing titan received the award from former President George W. Bush in 2005.
- Jackie Robinson: Robinson posthumously received the award from former President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
- Joe DiMaggio: former President Gerald Ford awarded the medal to baseball legend DiMaggio in 1977.
- Jesse Owens: the Olympian was awarded the medal by Ford in 1976.
- Paul “Bear” Bryant: the football coach was honored by Reagan in 1983.
- Richard Petty: acknowledged by former President George H.W. Bush in 1992.
- Arthur Ashe: awarded the medal by former President Bill Clinton in 1993.
- Arnold Palmer: received the medal from the younger Bush in 2004.
Who Else is Trump Awarding the Medal to in His Last Days as President?
In the spirit of most outgoing presidents, Trump is issuing a flurry of Medals in his last days in the White House. Less than 24 hours after the Capitol riots, Trump awarded the Medal to three former golfers – Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player and Babe Zaharias. Republican congressman and Trump surrogate Jim Jordan received the award Monday.
Alongside more anticipated Medals, Trump is preparing pardons and acknowledgements. This is perhaps the most normal process to occur at the end of a presidency that has been anything but normal.