Six-time Super Bowl coach Bill Belichick says he will not accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from US President Donald Trump in the wake of the violence at the Capitol.
In a delicately worded, one-paragraph statement, Belichick said: “Remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award.”
The New England Patriots coach did not explicitly say he had turned down the offer from Mr Trump, who he has called a friend.
Instead, Belichick explained, “the decision has been made not to move forward with the award” in the wake of last week’s deadly siege.
— Dale Arnold (@DaleEArnold) January 12, 2021
Mr Trump said on Saturday, three days after the riots, he would award Belichick the nation’s highest civilian honour.
It was to be one in a late flurry of presentations that also included golfers Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player and the late Babe Zaharias.
Sorenstam and Player accepted their awards in a private ceremony the day after Trump supporters stormed the US Senate and House of Representatives.
Five people died in the mayhem, including US Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick. Belichick was to be honoured on Thursday.
“I was flattered … out of respect for what the honour represents and admiration for prior recipients,” the coach said in a 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.
“I know I also represent my family and the New England Patriots team.”
Although he describes himself as apolitical, Belichick has waded into politics on occasion.
He wrote Mr Trump a letter of support that the candidate read aloud the night before the 2016 election at a rally in New Hampshire, a bastion of the team’s fandom.
Although Mr Trump said the letter offered “best wishes for great results” on election day and “the opportunity to make America great again”, Belichick said it was merely to support a friend.
Belichick also wore an Armenian flag pin to the White House in 2015 when the team celebrated its fourth Super Bowl victory – believed to be a sign of support for the team’s director of football, Berj Najarian, who is of Armenian descent.
Last month, Belichick called on the US government to take action against Turkey and Azerbaijan for “unprovoked and violent attacks against Armenians”.
In the aftermath of black man George Floyd’s death at the hands of white police this summer, Patriots players praised Belichick for providing an open forum for them to express their feelings on race and social injustice in America.
In his statement on Monday, Belichick called that “one of the most rewarding things in my professional career”.
“Through the great leadership within our team, conversations about social justice, equality and human rights moved to the forefront and became actions,” he said.
“Continuing those efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award.”