Amid mounting speculation, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick announced that he would not accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom this week in the aftermath of the deadly pro-Trump riot at the Capitol.
White House officials said Sunday Trump was set to award Belichick with the medal this week in the waning days of his administration. The two have had a well-documented friendship.
But in a statement Monday, Belichick said he would not accept the medal in the wake of the Capitol attack.
"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 said in the statement. "Subsequently, the tragic events of last week occurred and the decision has been made not to move forward with the award."
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The coach cited his "great reverence for our nation's values, freedom and democracy."
Belichick also spoke of the conversations in 2020 that led to positive change.
"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," he said. "Continuing those efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award."
Previously, senior Boston Globe football writer Ben Volin said in a tweet it wasn't a certainty Belichick would accept the award.
If Belichick had chosen to accept the award, it would have likely come amid efforts to impeach Trump for a second time.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday the House would proceed with legislation to impeach Trump as she pushes the vice president and the Cabinet to invoke constitutional authority force him out, warning that Trump is a threat to democracy after the deadly assault on the Capitol.
After reports emerged that Belichick would be be given the honor, many commentators -- including longtime sports columnist Bob Ryan -- took to Twitter to question whether the coach should accept it.
The award, established by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, is America's highest civilian honor. It is awarded to people "who have made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," the White House website states.
The presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom had been expected to occur on Thursday. Aside from the questionable timing, the news didn’t come as too much of a surprise. Trump has selected a string of sports figures and political backers for the award as of late.
Belichick is the only coach to win six Super Bowl titles and is undoubtedly one of the most successful football coaches in NFL history. He owns the most wins among active coaches, while the Bill Belichick Foundation also provides scholarship and grant funds to help underprivileged youth participate in sports programs.
The two are friends, and Belichick has long been a Trump supporter.
Just before the 2016 election, Trump announced the Pats coach had sent him a letter endorsing his candidacy, reading the letter aloud during a campaign rally in New Hampshire.
"Our friendship goes back many years and I think that anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me knows I'm not a political person," Belichick said after news of his letter was made public.
"To me, friendship and loyalty is just about that. It's not about political or religious views. I write hundreds of letters and notes every month. Doesn't mean that I agree with every single thing that every person thinks about, politics, religion or other subjects, but I have multiple friendships that are important to me, and that's what that was about," he added.
Trump has many times heaped praise upon Belichick, owner Robert Kraft and former quarterback Tom Brady for their success in New England, calling the Patriots an outstanding organization with an incredible coach.
Last summer, during an interview on The Hugh Hewitt Show, Trump called Belichick a very good friend. He even said he would ask Belichick for military advice, calling the Pats coach a winner.
"You know, if I ever had a military battle, I'd call up Belichick and say, 'What do you think? ... Give me a couple of ideas.' And he'd be as good as any general out there," Trump said in the August 2020 interview.
Just last month, Belichick was reappointed to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition. He has served on the council since 2016.
On Monday, Trump awarded Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) the Medal of Freedom. Following Jordan, Belichick would have been the seventh individual to receive the highest U.S. civilian honor in 2021. The president has already awarded it to Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Devin Nunes, Rush Limbaugh, Gary Player, and Annika Sörenstam.
Since 2017, Trump has awarded 24 medals, including one to Boston Celtics great Bob Cousy in 2019.
Trump has often held grand presentation ceremonies for the award, but recent ceremonies have taken place in private, while Trump has generally avoided the press since his election loss.
The Associated Press contributed to this report