GUREGIAN: Belichick does right thing, for himself and Pats, by refusing medal from Trump

KAREN GUREGIAN
Boston Herald (TNS)
Bill Belichick

In the end, Bill Belichick did what he thought was right.

No matter what that decision was, no matter what the Patriots coach decided, what he felt in his heart was the way to go.

And the heart ruled.

Belichick put out a thoughtful statement Monday night, opting not to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom award on Thursday.

His reasons were obvious. His message was on point.

While it is one of the most prestigious awards anyone can receive, with a list of honorees that includes such sports luminaries as Arthur Ashe, Hank Aaron, John Wooden, Muhammed Ali, Jack Nicklaus, Billie Jean King and Bill Russell, Belichick thought beyond the award. He thought beyond any friendship with President Trump.

He thought about what was right for him in wake of recent events. And ultimately, what was right for him, was right for the Patriots.

For reporters who cover the team, Belichick has been known to utter the line of always "doing what's best" for the Patriots. Accepting an award at the White House, after the atrocities committed at the Capitol where people lost their lives, just wasn't the way to go.

It was especially not the way to go, after all Belichick has experienced with his players this year with regard to social justice concerns, and airing those concerns in private sessions.

Belichick took part in conversations with his players on Mondays, discussing human rights and equality issues that were important to them. His players applauded him for those efforts. They appreciated him taking the Black Lives Matter movement seriously, as well as other social causes weighing on the minds of his players. They appreciated how much he cared about their views.

Belichick knows what message it would have sent if he ignored and dismissed those conversations.

Clear statement: Again, his statement was very clear on where he stood with respect to those private moments with his players, as well as giving up 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. Subsequently, the tragic events of last week occurred and the decision has been made not to move forward with the award," Belichick wrote in a statement. "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. 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 concluded by writing: "Continuing those efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award."

Remaining true to himself: Belichick did remain true. He expects and respects the loyalty of others. He couldn't accept that award, and also be loyal to the players who helped him win six championships in New England, especially those who have won the most recent titles, and still remain with the team.

While Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung and others respect Belichick as a head coach, it's not hard to imagine what might have ensued had Belichick gone to a ceremony held by Trump. On a personal level, Belichick might have sunk in their eyes.

Even though some have argued that it was important to separate the award from the president, that was still tough sledding for Belichick to negotiate.

Perception mattered: While it might have been the greatest personal honor he might have received in his lifetime, and it might have been his only chance to get it, there had to be great concern for how he might be perceived by the players, and how the Patriots would be perceived at large, if he chose to accept the honor, and go for the photo-op with Trump.

Belichick naturally accepted the award initially, having gotten word before the horrific events that went down at the Capitol last week. But after reflection, he thought better of it.

He went with his heart. And his head.

If he didn't, the ramifications might have been great. And while Belichick has never been afraid to take an unpopular stand, trading popular players, or even letting the GOAT Tom Brady walk, this was a different line in the sand.

One the Patriots head coach wisely decided not to cross.