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Bill Belichick’s silence becomes conspicuous

Players from around the NFL posted an emotional message about police brutality in the U.S., making Mike Florio and Big Cat ask how the league might handle any anthem protests in the fall.

In this historic moment, there is no middle ground. The choices are to support the notion of equality, liberty, and justice for all, or not to.

Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 NFL defensive player of the year, left no doubt regarding his position on the matter, given his involvement in the powerful and moving video produced by several prominent NFL players. So where does his boss stand?

The question of Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s silence has been raised by Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston. At a time when more and more coaches are speaking out in compelling fashion (including a pair of former Belichick lieutenants, Brian Flores and Bill O’Brien), Belichick remains quiet.

On one hand, he’s always quiet. On the other hand, a past instance of Belichick breaking character becomes relevant in this moment. Most prominently for present purposes, Belichick wrote a letter to the current president just before the election. And when the then-candidate contacted Belichick for permission to read the letter publicly, Belichick (per the then-candidate) wrote a different letter that was actually stronger.

Belichick later admitted writing the letter, explaining that it wasn’t politics that motivated him by “friendship and loyalty” to the candidate. And so it’s now fair to ask what will Belichick do out of “friendship and loyalty” to his players, who currently are screaming out for the full promise of America that has been denied for them for far too long?

Again, there is no middle ground. There should be nothing political about this. Either you support equality, liberty, and justice for all, or you don’t. For NFL coaches, they either support the men in their locker room who are simply trying to get the things that America claims to freely provide to all people, or they don’t.

Belichick turned 68 in April. He has seen a lot of things, he has worked with a lot of people, and he has had a lot of experiences. And while his decisions regarding who deserves to have a job on the team or a spot in the starting lineup are driven only by a blind passion to win regardless of any of the players’ characteristics, the world has shifted on its axis in the last 11 days.

In this climate, silence sends a message perhaps even more powerful than speaking up. Especially when, in this case, Belichick supported a candidate who, most recently, used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear a crowd of peaceful protestors in advance of a photo op at a church near the White House. At this specific moment in history, and given Belichick’s public support for the candidate, silence amounts to ratification. And ratification of that behavior is antithetical to everything that Gilmore and other NFL players are trying to accomplish.

“He told the players not to get into the election or debate with the media because it would become a distraction,” a former Patriots player told Curran this week. “So we listened but when we he endorsed [Donald] Trump, a lot of people were upset. He tried to say he didn’t endorse him and that he was just writing a friend a letter but we all knew what that letter meant.”

Another former Patriots player doesn’t expect Belichick to say anything at all now.

“I think the minority of coaches actually give a sh-t enough to step off the ledge,” the former player told Curran. “I think he cares about players but not enough to speak out on this. Is anyone surprised?”

Belichick could surprise all of us -- pleasantly -- by putting pen to paper or vocal cords to microphone and saying the things that Gilmore and the other players want to hear: “I condemn racism and the systemic oppression of black people. I admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting. I believe black lives matter.”

As to Belichick, given his choice to pick a side in November 2016, he may have to go even a little farther to persuade his players that he fully and completely supports the effort to secure racial equality and justice.