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Bill Belichick made the right call by turning down a participation trophy

The Presidential Medal of Freedom has become a joke, and the Patriots coach deserved better.

President Donald Trump... Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Bill Belichick’s career has been defined by facing a tough decision, and making the right call. He did that once again on Monday, by declining to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom offered by Donald Trump less than a week after insurrectionists stormed the Capitol Building, leading to the death of five people, including a Capitol Police officer.

Belichick, a known friend of Trump, was scheduled to receive the medal on Thursday. The Patriots’ coach issued a statement saying he was declining the award.

“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 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.”

The idea Belichick would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the first place might seem ridiculous, but it’s basically become a participation trophy at this point. If you’re friends with the president, or have supported his policies or business, you get a medal. In recent years the highest civilian honor in the United States has turned into the sticker board my toddler uses when she listens, or cleans up her toys. It’s an excuse to have a friend over, and treat them to a nice dinner.

Prior to the current administration, here’s a small collection of the people who won the award.

  • The crew of Apollo 13.
  • Mother Teresa.
  • Rosa Parks.
  • Muhammad Ali.
  • Fred Rogers.
  • Gloria Steinem.

Here are some of those who have won the award in the last year.

  • Rush Limbaugh.
  • Devin Nunes.
  • Jim Jordan.

There’s no doubt the whole award has become a bit of a joke. First established by John F. Kennedy in 1963, it was intended to reward “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” The problem is there are no limits on how many awards could be handed out by presidents, leading to dozens and dozens of awards being given every year. When we ran out of people who literally changed the course of our nation, it was given to notable citizens, then finally friends. It became easier to obtain than a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars.

Now the bottom of the barrel has truly been scraped. The medal is the last punch on a loyalty card, which is how people like Nunes and Jordan ended up with it. Current serving politicians who haven’t done anything memorable, outside of appearing on network news espousing their love of the president.

Given his achievements as a coach, Belichick honestly deserves the award based on past recipients. However, the whole feeling around being offered it seemed less to do with his professional achievements, and more because he was a friend of Trump. That and the optics of giving the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the coach of the “Patriots” has zero subtlety.

The last week has unquestionably been one of the darkest in recent memory. Capping it off with awards shamelessly attempts to sweep them under the rug and get on with business as usual. Belichick has remained resolute that he’s apolitical, so kudos to him for not being used as a pawn.