This time of year, Bill Belichick typically finds himself fresh off a bye week and preparing for a home divisional round playoff game against a far inferior opponent. In addition to not even making the playoffs, two burdens were dropped in Belichick’s lap this week: the burden of opportunity and the burden of power.
Sunday night, Politico reported Belichick would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Donald Trump this Thursday, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a civilian in the United States. This comes in the wake of the House of Representatives moving to impeach the president after he incited an insurrection last week that led to the storming of the US Capitol building.
Monday night, in an unprecedented move, Belichick declined the Presidential Medal of Freedom, releasing the following statement:
By declining to allow the President to use him as a political pawn, Belichick is passively saying that he does not approve of the behavior of Donald Trump, whom he openly supported in the 2016 presidential election -- thus fulfilling his moral obligation to his team, his fans, the rest of the NFL, and to ordinary Americans.
Belichick, who this season held social justice meetings every Monday, found himself with a unique opportunity. Although the Medal of Freedom invitation was reportedly extended prior the storming of the Capitol, Trump’s fanning of the flames of the insurrection was obviously the predominant factor in Belichick’s decision to decline. Trump’s directive resulted in five deaths, including Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, the suicide of Officer Howard Liebengood, multiple incidents of officers who were stationed at the Capitol threatening self harm in the days since, and led to a flag that represents racism and white supremacy entering the US Capitol for the first time in the history of the United States.
Foremost was the lack of resistance from law enforcement the pro-Trump extremists faced. This was stark when juxtaposed with the overt violence, beatings, and arrests peaceful protesters in the spring and summer were met with from law enforcement. Those protesters were protesting against police brutality and systemic racism in the wake of the murder of George Floyd -- issues with which the black men in Bill Belichick’s locker room and other locker rooms around the NFL are all too familiar.
Back in June, Drew Brees likewise did not allow Trump to use Brees’ situation as a ploy to ignore social justice issues and make kneeling during the National Anthem about the flag itself.
Belichick did the same. He didn’t ask for the opportunity that fell into his lap, but whether he likes it or not it did, and as one of the biggest and most recognizable names in NFL and sports history, Belichick’s strong response is pivotal. It’s a watershed moment in “keep politics out of sports!” discourse. That is how a virtuous person wields power.
This isn’t politics. An angry mob of pro-Trump extremists, incited by the man himself, chanting to hang the vice president, literally building a gallows outside the Capitol, flying under the flag of white supremacy, many waving “Blues Lives Matter” flags as they assaulted police officers and murdered Officer Sicknick, storming a federal building, and attempting to stop the gears of democracy because their candidate didn’t get re-elected isn’t “politics.” It’s not “right” vs “left.” It’s morals. It’s right and wrong. It’s good vs evil.
In 2020 there was a lot of talk around New England and on WEEI’s airwaves about how significant a Belichick statement concerning racial injustice would be. One never came, but that was different from the current situation. Seemingly every team, company, and people associated with sports put out statements after the murder of George Floyd. Unless you’re Ben & Jerry’s or Patrice Bergeron, many of these statements did more for PR than generate actual change. It was the flavor of the week to release a statement at the time.
There isn’t an oversaturation of statements right now. Three individuals were supposed to be awarded the Medal of Freedom this week. With the right platform, that presents an opportunity. That in itself is power. The president handed it to Belichick on a silver platter. Belichick chose the path of righteousness, using that power to make an effective statement.
If a person has the power to do good in the face of evil, to do what’s right in the face of wrong, then they have a moral obligation to do so. Belichick did.
P.S.: The words “Republican” and “Democrat” do not appear in this column.