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BOSTON (Reuters) - New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on Monday he has decided not to accept the Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Donald Trump in the wake of last week's siege of the Capitol by the president's supporters.
Politico reported on Sunday that Trump had planned to bestow the highest civilian honor on Belichick.
Trump faces an attempt by Congressional Democrats to remove him from office after he urged supporters to march on the Capitol during a rally where he repeated false claims that the Nov. 3 election was "rigged" against him.
At least five people died in the attack.
"I was offered the opportunity to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom," 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."
Belichick said above all he was 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," he continued. "...Remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award."
The White House was not immediately available for comment.
News that Belichick was being lined up for the Medal of Freedom sparked widespread negative reaction on social media.
"If this story about Bill Belichick accepting a Medal of Freedom from the disgraced occupant of the White House is true, he's dead to me," Bob Ryan, a Boston Globe sports columnist emeritus, wrote on Twitter. "Say it ain't so, Bill."
In 2016, Trump read a glowing letter from Belichick while on the campaign trail, in which the coach praised his courage and leadership.
It was criticized by some fans but did not seem to affect Belichick's standing with players in the locker room. Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots, is also friendly with Trump.
The U.S. president has had a long-running fight with the National Football League over players kneeling during the national anthem, a gesture that was first adopted by some Black players to protest against racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Trump called on the league to ban players from kneeling in protest.
In the Patriots' home state of Massachusetts, Trump received only 32% of votes cast in the presidential election in November.
Joe Biden is set to be sworn in as the 46th U.S. president on Jan. 20.
"Bill is on the spot here," Dan Shaughnessy, a long-time sports columnist for the Boston Globe, said before Belichick's statement. "If he receives the award, it makes things difficult for him in his locker room and in this community."
With the Patriots slumping to their first losing season since 2000, Belichick needs good relations with players and prospective free agents as they look to shore up deficiencies on their roster.
Belichick's teams have won a record six Super Bowl championships but this season the Patriots posted a 7-9 record without star quarterback Tom Brady, who is gunning for a seventh win with his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
(Reporting by Tim McLaughlin, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien/Peter Rutherford)
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