Incomplete pass[ive]: Bill Belichick rejects the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Photo: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Donald Trump proposed to give New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Belichick’s statement declining the honor twists, turns, and lies down passively like a quarterback about to be sacked by the defense.

A bit of background. Belichick is part of the holy trinity of New England football, along with Patriots owner Bob Kraft and long-time quarterback Tom Brady (who left for this season). Together, the trio won six Super Bowls. And they’ve historically been Trump supporters.

It’s also worth mentioning Belichick’s unequalled talent for evasive non-statements. Like all coaches, he gives press conferences, but in them, he never reveals anything. “We’ll always do what’s best for the team,” “I won’t get into how we make decisions,” “We’ll see what happens on game day,” that sort of thing. He believes that revealing what is actually going on gives vital information to the other team, so it is instinctive for him to conceal what he is thinking.

Analyzing Belichick’s statement regarding the Medal of Freedom

Four different people sent me links to Belichick’s statement, which is (characteristically) notable for what fails to say. Here it is:

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.

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. Continuing those efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award.

First off, just read that. It’s almost as if you can feel clouds rolling in, in your brain. It’s hard to follow what’s going on. So let’s take it one sentence at a time to understand what Belichick is doing.

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.

Right after the snap, there’s misdirection with multiple stacked-up subordinate clauses and phrases. “I was flattered by” is passive, hiding who is doing the flattering: Trump. Belichick would simultaneously like you to believe he finds it flattering that Trump offered the honor (to satisfy Trump backers), and that he won’t mention Trump (to mollify Trump haters).

Subsequently, the tragic events of last week occurred and the decision has been made not to move forward with the award.

Now we’re scrambling around aimlessly when we should be saying something. This is the passive sentence that prompted everyone to send me this statement. “The decision has been made” — by whom? Zombies?

By referring to tragic events that “occured,” Belichick doesn’t have to say who’s responsible. And he made the decision to turn down the award. His evasion speaks just as loud as his actions here.

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.

This is as meaningless as patting the football before you throw it. These are Meaningless platitudes. Drivel. Completely irrelevant. I mean really, does this say anything at all?

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.

Misdirection is part of football — Belichick is trying to get you to look at the running back instead of the guy with the ball.

There are a lot of Black players on the Patriots team. They are concerned about social justice. So lately, Belichick has become sensitive to that topic. This is a position worthy of praise.

But wrapping yourself in past actions that have nothing to do with the current statement is just deflection. Does he want us to believe that Trump is giving him the Medal of Freedom to reflect his commitment to racial justice? Yeah, that must be it. Right.

Continuing those efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award.

Here’s where the statement ignominiously crumples to the ground. The final sentence sort-of says that receiving the award would look bad right now — except it doesn’t. He never actually says why he’s turning down the award, aside from the fact that it looks bad.

Imagine this statement rewritten clearly and truthfully

It’s always a useful exercise to attempt to rewrite drivel like this, because it is so revealing. So here’s the statement Belichick could have made, if he wasn’t afraid of offending both Trump backers and Trump opponents:

President Trump offered me the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Normally I’d love such an honor, but I’m turning it down.

Right now, Trump is radioactive, since he’s associated with the criminals who invaded the Capitol building last week. I used to be a fan, but not any more.

I regret backing Trump, seeing everything that’s happened. Now the Trump-haters hate me for originally backing him, and the Trump-lovers hate me for deserting him. It’s a no-win situation.

We didn’t make the playoffs this year. I’m hoping you’ll forget this kerfuffle by next season, when I’ll return to saying meaningless things about football once again.

10 responses to “Incomplete pass[ive]: Bill Belichick rejects the Presidential Medal of Freedom

  1. Your rewrite is excellent. If Belichick had the guts to say something like that, I’d be tempted to respect him.

  2. Oh please Josh. Given everything that Bill has said and people like yourself have written about him, I’d say he more spoke to the people closet to him. Ask his players what they think of his statement. No one in his position will EVER say what you wrote, unless they are loudmouth coaches like ex-NY Jets coach Rex Ryan or his father Buddie Ryan. Further, purely from a PR perspective, no PR advisor would advocate for your version.

  3. Josh, Bill’s statement is an example of bafflegab that passes for writing. Don’t know who wrote it, but they are not doing him any favors. Your alternative is much clearer although he would never be so direct against his former hero. But, he should have said it the way you wrote it nevertheless!

  4. Could you do a brief ROAM analysis of his statement? Even though your rewrite sounds better to you and me and a lot of other people, maybe Belichick’s words get his message across more effectively to his audience. If he’d written it your way, I think most people would know immediately that it didn’t come from him.

    1. Readers: Fans of the team. (He doesn’t care about anyone else.)

      Objective: Get people to think of him positively in light of turning down the Medal of Freedom.

      Action: Don’t desert the team. Don’t criticize him.

      iMpression: Belichick is an honorable person.

      Tom, this was a fascinating exercise. Now that I realize Belichick’s goal is to get people NOT to do things, confusing them is actually a valid strategy.

      Bad writing. But the lack of clarity actually has a goal. Disturbing.

  5. Curiosity would be a cat who gives out the Presidential Medals of Anything? It might be assumed that the first word is a clue, but alas it did not occured [sic] that way.

    I am curious how we know Bill turned it down. Using a Google(TM) coupon revealed nothing. Really, nothing.

  6. Good for Bill! I think he is a magnificent coach but I have always rooted against him and Tom Brady due to their support for the orange creep and the fact that they win so much. Go Eagles!

  7. Omg your rewrite is fantastic! I also find such rewrites to be fulfilling, even cathartic, in the face of so much drivel and non-statements passed off as “news.” It works well with political speeches, too.

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