Patriots coach says 'no thanks' to Trump's desperate Medal of Freedom award offer
File:Bill Belichick 2019 (cropped).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is so punk rock and doesn't care what you think: That includes the President of the United States.

Three days after the riots at the Capitol, Trump announced he would be awarding future NFL Hall of Famer coach Belichick the Medal of Freedom, which is our nation's highest civilian honor. So, for Belichick to turn it down is quite a statement. He is the only person who could refuse such an honor without anyone thinking that he is trying to gain the spotlight. He just does what he thinks is right.

And that in itself ironically might be what makes him award-worthy.



Belichick has never been known for attention-grabbing antics. Anyone who has seen his press conferences knows what I'm talking about. During a Monday night in September 2014, the Chiefs embarrassed the Patriots, 41-14. New England needed to brush it off and focus on the Cincinnati Bengals, who was their opponent the following Sunday.

During the post-game press conference, the media peppered Belichick with ludicrous questions attacking the integrity of the entire organization, quarterback Tom Brady not withstanding. Rather than getting dragged into a frivolous back and forth with the press, Belichick answered every inane question with three words: "on to Cincinnati." That became a rallying cry of sorts for the Patriots over the rest of the season. From there, they won 11 out of the 12 games remaining in the regular reason, and went on to win their first Super Bowl in 10 years.

To this day, "on to Cincinnati" has become a popular catchphrase for "let's move on."

When Belichick announced Monday night that he will not accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying "remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award," was his way of politely saying "on to Joe Biden."

Although Belichick describes himself as apolitical, he was forced to address a note he penned to Donald Trump after the 2016 presidential election. Belichick claimed at a press conference that "anyone who has known him for more than five minutes knows that he is not a political person." He went on to say that his friendship with Trump went back a long way, but that John Kerry was also in the Patriots locker room weeks earlier. Belichick was quick to point out that the two politicians had very different political views, but who he is friends with has nothing to do with who he votes for. That, alone, is a page we should all take from the greatest football mind of all time, especially if we are going to heal this country.

Loyalty is important, but standing up for what you believe in is even more so. In typical Belichick-style, his delicately-worded statement said everything he wanted to say (in as few words possible):

"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."

It doesn't matter if Belichick was close with Donald Trump. By turning down the Medal of Freedom from one of his friends (technically he didn't refuse it, he just isn't going to "move forward" with it), he has given us the blueprints to stay true to our hearts, no matter what those around us might feel. Standing up for what you believe in doesn't mean just spouting your point of view on social media. It means walking the walk.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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