Bill Belichick has accumulated more wins as an NFL coach than anyone else alive, with the single exception of Don Shula. His teams have won more playoff games, won more conference championships and won more Super Bowls than those of any other NFL coach, living or dead. His trophy case runneth over.

Lest there be doubt, the greatest New England Patriot of them all is as deserving of the nation’s highest civilian honor as many past recipients. Still, there’s no way Belichick could have accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom this week without significant tarnish on the lustrous award.

President Donald Trump’s seditious rabble-rousing in the moments before last week’s violent assault on the U.S. Capitol still darkens the capital and country. Indeed, Trump is on course to set a record of his own this week, as the only president twice impeached in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Belichick deserves some credit for declining to be a prop in Trump’s effort to distract from a crisis so large that nearly 15,000 members of the National Guard were deployed to keep the peace at the inauguration of Trump’s successor.

In a statement about his decision, Belichick didn’t reference Trump by name. However, his message described one of the most rewarding moments of his career as occurring last year 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.”

Belichick may not have called out Trump, a friend since before Trump ran for president. But contrasting last week’s violence with the country’s reckoning with racial and social equality was almost as resonant as Belichick’s willingness to place himself in the footnotes of history as the person who refused the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Created by President John F. Kennedy, the award has been given to more than 650 people for significant contributions to national security, world peace or “cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Astronauts, Supreme Court justices and diplomats are among its recipients, as are the likes of actor Danny Kaye, NASCAR driver Richard Petty, Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, New York Yankees philosopher and catcher Yogi Berra and Oprah Winfrey.

Belichick hasn’t been to the moon or negotiated peace among countries, but his achievements in professional sports are without question. He doesn’t need another medal, especially given under these circumstances, to validate them.


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