On Sunday, the White House announced arguably the greatest head coach ever to coach in the NFL, New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, would be awarded the highest civilian honor in the Presidential Medal Of Freedom. In twenty-one years with the Patriots, he has brought an NFL coaching record six Super Bowls and nine AFC Championships to Foxborough, undeniably deserving of the award. However, citing the violence that fell upon the Capitol Building following a rally featuring President Donald Trump, Belichick has chosen to decline the honor.
“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,” Belichick explained in a one-paragraph statement. “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.”
“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,” the statement concluded. “Continuing those efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award.”
The White House intended to host him alongside golfers Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player, and the late Babe Zaharias. Sorenstam and Player both accepted their awards in a private ceremony the day after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Though he has remained largely apolitical, Belichick did reportedly write a letter issuing encouragement to Trump in 2016 during his Presidential campaign, read aloud during an Election Night eve rally in New Hampshire by Trump. “Congratulations on a tremendous campaign,” Trump read from the purported Belichick letter. “You have dealt with an unbelievably slanted and negative media and have come out beautifully. You’ve proved to be the ultimate competitor and fighter. Your leadership is amazing.”
When asked by reporters, Belichick clarified the letter was intended to merely support a friend, saying, “Our friendship goes back many years. Anybody who spends more than five minutes with me knows I’m not a political person. My comments are not politically motivated. I have a friendship with Donald.”
Belichick earned praise from the NFL Player Association’s executive director, DeMaurice Smith, for the decision and statement. Smith asserted that his statement was “spot-on”, proud of the way Belichick “referenced standing with the players, referenced the conversations that were going on in his locker room about social justice, and while he recognized that it was an award that has honored a number of extremely deserving people in the past.”
While defensibly a poorly timed honor, considering the decision’s proximity to the riots that rocked the nation caused by supporters of the President, Belichick’s decision to decline highlights our nation’s failure to unify and, potentially, our outright misunderstanding of even how to unify. With so much to meditate upon and work through as a nation, awards and medals should be taking a backseat to healing and cooling our political climate, but Belichick’s reasoning for refusal reveals his and our nation’s failure to understand unity.
It may be the end of his administration but, for the next week, Donald Trump will remain President and will remain the figurehead of America, the physical representation of our nation’s spirit. To accept an award from the spirit of America expresses unity underneath the flag, especially in defiance of one’s conflicting political background. Refusal of such because of political disagreements is a refusal to unify underneath America, declaring a rejection of America unless it operates how you individually desire it to.
True unity cannot come upon our own exclusive terms. True unity cannot be dependent upon whether or not our agenda is being played out. Unity must come from a shared belief in our nation’s ideals and systems, independent of the outcome the system produces. We must be willing to set aside our differences and support our duly elected leaders and hope they do their best for America.
This distinction matters with President-elect Joe Biden’s administration’s inaugural theme being “America United.” Only now does the Left desire unity, a complete reversal of the past four years of refusing Trump as the President and burning innocent cities to the ground to get what they want. If President Trump had been awarded a second term, riots would have, once again, strangled our nation, unconcerned with unifying with the other side.
But the Left got what they want. And now unity takes the forefront of our political objectives. However, what Biden desires is not unity. The Left has never been about unity. It has always been orthodoxy.