New England Patriots football coach Bill Belichick will not accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Thursday

John F. Kennedy gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to E.B. White, Thornton Wilder, Felix Frankfurter, and Marion Anderson, among others.

Lyndon Johnson list of medal honorees included on John F. Kennedy, Walt Disney, Aaron Copland, T.S. Eliot, John Lewis, Walter Lippman, Carl Sandburg, John Steinbeck, Reinhold Niebuhr, Helen Keller, A. Philip Randolph, Ralph Ellison, and Bob Hope.

Richard Nixon honored Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and John Ford, to name a few.

Gerald Ford gave the medal to Jesse Owens, Irving Berlin, Omar Bradley, Joe DiMaggio, Bruce Catton, Will Durant, Lady Bird Johnson, Georgia O’Keefe, James Michener, and Norman Rockwell.

Jimmy Carter bestowed the medal on Andrew Young, Earl Warren, Walter Cronkite, John Wayne, Robert Penn Warren, Lyndon Johnson, Tennessee Williams, Hubert Humphrey, Beverly Sills, Martin Luther King Jr., Jonas Salk, Margaret Mead, and Ansel Adams.

Ronald Reagan’s list of medal winners included Billy Graham, Jacob Javits, Dumas Malone, Bear Bryant, James Cagney, Whittake Chambers, Louis L’Amour, Norman Vincent Peale, Jackie Robinson, Anwar Sadat, Eunice Kennedy Shrives, Count Basie, Jacques Cousteau, Frank Sinatra, Mother Theresa, Jimmy Stewart, Chuck Yeager, Helen Hayes, Barry Goldwater, Danny Kaye, Pearl Bailey, and Milton Friedman.

George H.W. Bush gave the medal to Lucille Ball, George Kennan, George Schultz, Lech Walesa, James Baker, William F. Buckley, Betty Ford, Tip O’Neill, Friedrich Hayek, Colin Powell, Margaret Thatcher, Ted Williams, David Brinkley, Johnny Carson, Ella Fitzgerald, Audrey Hepburn, Richard Petty, Elie Wiesel, I.M. Pei, and Ronald Reagan.

Bill Clinton awarded Arthur Ashe, William Brennan, J. William Fulbright, Thurgood Marshall, Martha Raye, Cesar Chavez, Barbara Jordan, Sargent Schriver, John Hope Franklin, C. Everett Koop, James Brady, Rosa Parks, Bob Dole, Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, Gerald Ford, John Kenneth Galbraith, Jesse Jackson, George McGovern, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

George W. Bush’s list included Hank Aaron, Bill Cosby (woops), Placido Domingo, Katharine Graham, Irving Kristol, Nelson Mandela, Nancy Reagan, Fred Rogers, Jacques Barzun, Julia Child, Roberto Clemente, Vaclav Havel, Charlton Heston, John Wooden, Doris Day, John Paul II, Rita Moreno, Arnold Palmer, Muhammad Ali, Carol Burnett, Andy Griffith, Paul Harvey, Jack Nicklaus, Frank Robinson, B.B. King, David McCullough, Francis Collins, Harper Lee, Ben Carson, Anthony Fauci, and Tony Blair.

Barack Obama gave the award to Jack Kemp, Stephen Hawking, Ted Kennedy, Billy Jean King, Harvey Milk, Sandra Day O’Connor, Sidney Poitier, Chita Rivera, Desmond Tutu, Maya Angelou, Warren Buffett, George H.W. Bush, John Lewis, Yo-Yo Ma, Stan Musial, Bill Russell, Madeleine Albright, Bob Dylan, John Glenn, Toni Morrison, John Paul Stevens, Ernie Banks, Ben Bradlee, Bill Clinton, Richard Lugar, Sally Ride, Loretta Lynn, Bayard Rustin, Dean Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Brokaw, Ethel Kennedy, Meryl Streep, Marlo Thomas, Stevie Wonder, Steven Spielberg, Emilio Estefan, Gloria Estefan, Itzhak Perlman, Barbara Streisand, James Taylor, Shirley Chisolm, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Robert Redford, Robert DeNiro, Tom Hanks, Cicely Tyson, Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Lorne Michaels, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill and Melinda Gates, Vin Scully, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, and Joe Biden.

Donald Trump has given the award to Orrin Hatch, Edwin Meese, Jerry West, Tiger Woods, Mariano Rivera, Arthur Laffer, Lou Holtz, Rush Limbaugh, and Jim Ryun, to name a few.

This year Trump is giving the award to Olympic athlete Bad Didrikson Zaharias (she died in 1956), pro-Trump congressman Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan (I assume based on their defense of Trump during the impeachment hearings in the House), Gary Player (whose does not want him to accept it), women’s golfer Annika Sorenstam.

Patriots coach Bill Belichik, who was also scheduled to receive a 2021 Medal of Freedom, refuses to accept it. Here is CNN:

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has announced that he is declining the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he was scheduled to receive from President Donald Trump on Thursday.

Belichick cited the “tragic events of last week” as leading to his decision. Pro-Trump rioters rampaged in the US Capitol last Wednesday. Five people died as a result of the chaos, including a US Capitol Police officer. House Democrats want to impeach Trump, accusing him of “incitement of insurrection.”

“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.”

Read the entire piece here.

An important message for the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog

November is finally here. I have seen a lot of hate spewed in recent months about a man who is a constant winner and overachiever, and that’s what the people who support him like about him.

Yes, he’s been caught in some lies and twisted the truth a little but he’s still out there proving his haters wrong time after time.

Often people are jealous of someone who is successful, powerful, and has a lot of money. Throw in a beautiful foreign supermodel at his side and they hate him even more.

You may not have wanted him in his role, but he’s there now and there’s nothing you can do about it. I know it’s possibly going to get worse over the next several days, but like him or not, Tom Brady is really turning things around in Tampa.



Monday in Trumpland


It was a rough start to the week for the president. White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, a Trump loyalist who is one of the few staff members who has not left the administration, announced that she is leaving her position. The resignation comes after Conway’s teenage daughter blasted her mother on Twitter and claimed that she was seeking emancipation from Kelly and her husband, GOP anti-Trumper George Conway. This is yet another tragic story of how Trumpism has negatively affected an American family. I wish the Conways well.

While the Conway story unfolded, we learned that Jerry Falwell Jr., one of Trump’s most loyal evangelical defenders, was involved in a sexual tryst that included his wife Becki and a Miami pool boy. Falwell Jr. resigned late last night, but this story is not going away. I am guessing we will know more when former Trump fixer Michael Cohen releases his tell-all book.

Trump continues his efforts to stop the use of mail-in ballots for the November elections. Watch Trump yesterday at the GOP convention in Charlotte as he accepts his party’s nomination. My “favorite” part of this off-script rant in the video below is when Trump claims that this is the “greatest scam in the history of politics, I think, and I’m talking beyond our nation.” Well, I am sure Hitler, Stalin, and others, wherever they are right now, are glad that they are off the hook as the worst political scammers in world history.

Almost all of what Trump says in this clip is either misleading or untrue. Meanwhile, Trump’s Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told Congress yesterday that the U.S. Postal Service should have no problem handling mail-in ballots.

And then came the evening session of the Republican National Convention. Over and over again we heard Trump’s supporters say that he cares about America and all Americans. Unfortunately, this entire first night seemed more like a Trump rally–a direct appeal to the president’s political base. There was very little effort to expand the Trump coalition. And anyone who suggests that Trump is for “all Americans” has had their head in the sand the last four years. He has demonized all his enemies–even dissenters within the Republican Party.

Court evangelical Charlie Kirk started off the night by claiming that Trump is the “bodyguard of Western Civilization” who will protect our families and neighborhoods from the “vengeful mob.” We should all be afraid. He also praised Trump for cultivating a “civil society” in the United States. But if the young court evangelical’s bombastic rhetoric is any indication, I am not sure if he understands the meaning of the phrase “civil society.”

At the beginning of his speech, Kirk identified himself as the leader of Turning Point USA. Why didn’t he mention his role as the founder of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center? Can there be a Falkirk Center now that Jerry Falwell Jr. is gone?

At one point, Kirk surprisingly acknowledged “the complexities of the past.” But there was nothing complex about his speech, nor do we see complexity in anything Kirk writes every day on his Twitter feed.

Here is Kirk’s idea of “complexity”:


And then there was this piece of COVID-19 revisionism. Pick it up at the 56:18 mark:

This video looks like something that might have run on state television in the Soviet bloc. There was a lot propaganda last night. This was the worst.

And let’s not forget the former Fox News host and Donald Trump Jr. girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle. I haven’t seen anything like her speech since Howard Dean in 2004. Actually, Guilfoyle’s speech made Dean sound like an academic historian reading a paper at a professional conference.


I doubt many people noticed, but former Heisman Trophy-winning running back Herschel Walker praised Donald Trump’s ownership of the New Jersey Generals, a team that was part of the short-lived United States Football League (USFL):

Walker said that when Trump became owner of the Generals in 1984 he “learned about the history of the team.” I am not sure what to make of this claim since the USFL and the  Generals were founded in 1983. But it is good to know that Donald Trump is such a sports historian.

There were really only a few speeches that could have been delivered at a non-Trump GOP convention. Two of them came from former South Carolina Governor and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and South Carolina governor Tim Scott.

The show continues tomorrow.

How to get Mississippians to wear masks

If you can’t get people in to wear masks out of a sense of social responsibility, commitment to the public good, or appeals to citizenship, just tell them that they won’t be able to watch their favorite college football team.

Mississippi governor Tate Reeves recently tried this strategy:

It just might work.

Here is Yahoo Sports:

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves issued a mask mandate for his state on Tuesday. And he cited his desire to watch college football in the fall as a reason why.

Reeves’ order is designed to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state. And with the SEC delaying the season until late September and going to a conference-only schedule in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, Reeves made it clear that he wanted to watch games later this year.

Reeves is not the first politician or public figure to cite college football as a reason for wearing a mask. Alabama coach Nick Saban even filmed a public service announcement for the school to promote wearing a mask so that the football season could happen. Saban’s PSA came in May, over two months before Reeves’ declaration.

Read the rest here.

Go Rebels!

“Jerry Falwell’s dream of athletic domination is in peril” as Black athletes leave Liberty University


I was happy to help Joel Anderson with this piece at Slate.

Here is a taste:

Liberty’s football team has indeed come a long way since its inaugural season in 1973, when the Flames lost their first game to Massanutten Military Academy by 10 points. Liberty now plays in the top division of college football, the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A, and earned its first bowl victory in December. But to get to where Falwell Jr. wants to be, the university needs the caliber of athletes—many of them Black, like Land and Clark—that he has increasingly alienated with his far-right activism. (Nearly half of Division I football players are Black, according to the NCAA’s demographics database.)

“In order for them to attract the kind of players they need to become a top Division I school, they need to go recruiting people, Black and white, who aren’t necessarily perfect fits for a place like Liberty,” said John Fea, a historian of American religion at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. “They’ve gotta go beyond the megachurch youth group.”

In our conversation just before his announcement, Land made it clear that football was never a problem for him at Liberty. The training facilities at the school were top notch. He’d acquitted himself well as a freshman defensive back, playing in 11 of 13 games, including five starts, and finishing with 23 tackles. He was projected to start as a sophomore. It was everything he dealt with off the field, Land said, that made it hard for him to recommend the experience to anyone else.

Read the rest entire piece here.

ADDENDUM (August 2, 2020). After rereading this piece, I also realize Anderson quoted me on race:

This school was borne out of a culture that was systemically racist,” said Fea, the Messiah University professor who has written extensively about Liberty on his website. “And they won’t address that because they don’t even believe in it.

Don Shula, RIP

I was a diehard Miami Dolphins fan until Don Shula retired. So sad to hear about the death of the winningest coach in NFL history.  My favorite line from the above video: “Garo IS off the hook and Garo will not throw any more passes.” (Dolphin fans and other football historians will definitely understand what this means).

Here is The Miami Herald:

He made us matter, nothing less. He put Miami on the national sports map, and helped us discover how one team — just the right one — can knit a community with the power to lift an entire city.

Donald Francis Shula was the perfect coach at the perfect time.

He passed away Monday morning at his home in the Miami suburb of Indian Creek, after a monumental life lived long and well. He was 90.

Shula is survived by wife, Mary Anne, and by five children, 16 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He held nothing in his life higher in importance than family and faith. He also leaves a successful national chain of eponymous restaurants.

Of course, it is football and his Miami Dolphins that formed the legacy and bond that made Shula one of those most admired, respected and beloved figures in our history, in or out of sports — our patriarch and patron saint. He is an enduring South Florida icon, and the present tense there is intended. His status only grows now as we reflect and appreciate all he meant.

We had time to be ready for this day. To expect it. Shula coached here for 26 NFL seasons, through 1995, but had been retired for nearly as long. He faded by degrees from public life, especially in recent years, when age saw his health ebb.

And yet the news Monday still hit like a punch unexpected. A punch to the heart.

We have lost a member of our family.

And to lose him now, in the midst of the global coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, means he will not have the huge public memorial his stature warranted. Someday. For now, we can only miss him at a social distance.

We don’t lose Shula, though, as he lapses into legend and cherished memory. He is still here, a young man balanced high on his Dolphins players’ broad shoulders, getting the victory ride of his life and taking all of us along with him.

Shula’s grand career has at the top of its marquee the 1972 Perfect Season, that still-unique diamond, the first of his consecutive Super Bowl championships. That frozen snapshot of him being carried off the field, 17-0, remains the picture of perfection almost 50 years later.

Only one coach, in any sport, at any time, at any level, anywhere, is famously associated with the word “perfect.”

“I like that,” Shula said, smiling, as we met in 2015 for an extensive interview related to the Dolphins’ approaching 50th anniversary season. “I like that word. Perfection. I like the sound of that.”

Just below perfection on that crowded Shula marquee: his NFL-record of 347 coaching victories including 328 in the regular season and 19 more in the playoffs. He sailed into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Another team might finish a season with a perfect record someday (well, maybe). And another coach, perhaps Bill Belichick, might someday surpass his career victories total. Maybe.

But Shula died the perfect coach, and the winningest.

Read the entire piece here.

Yet Another Piece About Liberty University’s Quest to Become the “Evangelical Notre Dame”


These articles show-up every now and then.  I’ve written about them here and here and here.

Here is a taste of J. Brady McCollough’s long-form piece at the Los Angeles Times:

Signs offering football ticket discounts cover the campus, and posters of the team’s new coach, Hugh Freeze, encourage the effort to “Rise With Us.” Clearly, there is room at Liberty for the country’s Saturday religion.

Falwell Sr. had a vision of Liberty being for Evangelical Christians what Notre Dame is for Catholics and Brigham Young is for Mormons, and the newest team in major college football is not subtle with its imagery. The Flames wear red, white and blue. Their mascot is a bald eagle.

Read the entire piece here.

Some thoughts:

  1. This article is mostly about football.  Liberty’s quest to become an evangelical Notre Dame is never framed in terms of academics, intellectual life, or research.  At one point in the article, McCollough says, “To be a worthwhile university, Jerry Falwell Jr. thought, you needed to have two elements at the front: music and athletics.”  Really?
  2. Liberty University, with its vast resources, could be evangelicalism’s best chance at developing a serious research university.  But it won’t happen until the university offers tenure for faculty, invests money in faculty research, and broadens the doctrinal requirements placed upon faculty.  Falwell Jr.’s is not committed to these things.  In fact, the president’s rabid support for Donald Trump has seriously damaged any such advance and has probably set it back a few decades.
  3. Will Liberty University ever become the “evangelical Notre Dame” in football?  I doubt it.  I don’t think there are enough evangelicals who play football.  I could be wrong about this, but Liberty will never be anything more than a mid-major football program. Sure, they will occasionally pull-off an upset victory (remember Appalachian State and, more recently, Georgia State), but this will not make them a perennial power.  (Update: Syracuse shut-out Liberty on Saturday).

Tony Romo Was Amazing Last Night

I was never a Tony Romo fan during his playing days.  I probably would have liked him better if he did not play for the Dallas Cowboys.

But I have come to enjoy Tony Romo as a CBS NFL commentator and he was in rare form last night.  Watch:

Here are some more great tweets:









By the way,Romois calling the Super Bowl in two weeks.

What Would Lincoln Say?

trump fast food

As Donald Trump served hamburgers and fries to the Clemson University football team, Abraham Lincoln sat and watched.  Here is a taste of Amy Wang’s piece at The Washington Post:

There he was, the legendary statesman who had guided the United States through the bloody Civil War, now peering at stacks of either 300 hamburgers or “over 1000 hamberders,” depending on whom or when you asked.

It didn’t help that Trump gleefully presided over the spectacle while standing directly beneath Honest Abe.

“I like it all. It’s all good stuff,” Trump declared as a White House staffer finished lighting two majestic candelabras flanking the spread. “Great American food!”

Above him, a great American hunched deep into his chair, chin in hand, pondering life, liberty and the rights of man. If paintings on walls could talk, what might Lincoln even say?

Read the entire piece here.

Par for the Course: Liberty University Hires Hugh Freeze


Liberty University, the second largest Christian college in the world, just hired the former disgraced University of Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze to run its football program.  Freeze coached at Ole Miss from 2011-2017.  During his tenure he posted a 39-25 record, beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and got his team to a few prominent bowl games.  The NCAA investigated Freeze and the program for recruiting violations, but from what I can tell the violations were not the primary reason Freeze left the program in July 2017.

Freeze left Ole Miss after the administration learned that he had made a dozen calls to escort services during recruiting trips and he did so from his university phone.  He resigned in disgrace.

Since his resignation, Freeze, a born-again Christian who attends Pine Lake Church, an evangelical megachurch in Oxford, Mississippi, has been trying to rehabilitate his reputation.

In January 2018, Freeze began what some have described as his “redemption tour” on the campus of Liberty.  You can watch his speech (and his wife’s speech) to the students here:

Freeze must have made an impression on Jerry Falwell Jr. that day.

It seems that Falwell Jr. has become the university president of forgiveness and second chances.   In November 2016 he hired Ian McGaw as the university’s athletic director.  Some of you may recall that McGaw lost his athletic director job at Baylor University when he failed to report a a gang rape by Baylor football players.

And let’s not forget that Jerry Falwell Jr is one of the strongest evangelical supporters of Donald Trump, a man who, unlike Freeze, will not ask for forgiveness for his moral indiscretion and infidelity.

Here is a taste of Jason Kirk’s piece at SBNation:

It remains to be seen how Freeze can recruit at Liberty with multiple, interweaving scandals in his background. Lots of coaches have a scandal or even two, but how many have scandals that directly contrast with the entire public image those coaches presented of themselves?

Then again, it’s Liberty, where the school president once said the ex-Baylor AD “fits perfectly.” I don’t think the image that the rest of us see from the outside matters at all, compared to the image the school chooses to see of itself.

Read the entire piece here.

Martin Marty on Football: “The memories are vivid; the agonies of conscience thus grow stronger.”


In his regular column at the University of Chicago Divinity School website, Martin Marty wonders how long we can in good conscience continue to celebrate football.  He writes: “The question ‘What Would Jesus Think About Football?’ sounds silly and is inaptly posed.  But, then again….”

Here is a taste of his piece: “Football Religion“:

…Regularly cited was a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association on a study of the brains of 111 deceased former NFL players. Finding? “110 had the degenerative brain disease [CTE].” Let it be noted that the sports commentators who have been roused by this issue are not anti-sports (or anti-billion-dollar businesses). Most of them recognize the positive role that athletics can play in character formation and physical prowess, and many of those who now oppose the violent sport display signs of ambiguity and regret. Realists are aware of how hard it would be to introduce radical change to professional sports, given their market value.

Who stands apart from the debate, the questioning, the confusion? The author of this column still cherishes his own score chart of the 1941 Rose Bowl, when he was a 13-year-old in the midst of the Great Depression and then World War II, and our Nebraska Cornhuskers brought home name and fame, those things which were absent from our lives and newspapers each year until the time when we could turn our radio dials to college football. In high school the only letter available to little me was awarded for my announcing games on local radio. The memories are vivid; the agonies of conscience thus grow stronger

Read the entire piece here.

Football and God


The NFL season began last night.  That means it’s time for Christianity Today and other religious publications to start publishing pieces on Christianity and football.  This year is no exception.  Check out this piece by Paul Putz and Hunter Hampton, two emerging scholars of religion and sport.

Here is a taste of “God and the Gridiron Game“:

Some Protestants, especially “muscular Christians” like Yale graduate and University of Chicago football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, saw nothing wrong with the physicality of the sport. Indeed, football’s defenders often cited the prevalence of pious “praying” players as evidence of the game’s compatibility with Christian morality. But many Protestant leaders denounced football’s brutality. Charles Blanchard, president of Wheaton College from 1882 until 1925, took this view. He placed football in the same category as gambling and hard liquor, and viewed the sport not as a heroic, manly game, but a savage sport inhibiting students’ development into productive and civilized men.

In the 1890s and early 1900s, football’s leaders responded to critics like Blanchard by instituting a series of reforms (such as the legalization of the forward pass and the elimination of mass plays) to open up the game. Over time the rule changes helped to protect football from charges of brutality.

The passion that the game inspired in participants and spectators protected football as well. Presbyterian theologian J. Gresham Machen was one of many to fall under its spell. “When I see a vacant field on one of these autumn days,” Machen wrote to a friend while in Europe in 1905, “my mind is filled with wonder at this benighted people which does not seem to hear the voice of nature when she commands every human being to play football or watch it being played.”

Read the entire piece here.  In their next piece, I would like to see Hampton and Putz historicize this story.  How much longer can Christian colleges continue to field football teams and keep their moral integrity?

Make Liberty University Football (and all other sports) Great Again in the #ageoftrump


Decency, morality, truth, and ethics no longer matter in what I have been describing on Twitter as the #ageoftrump.  Perhaps the most conspicuous representatives of this new political and cultural era are American evangelicals.

It has now been well documented that many white evangelical Christians supported Donald Trump despite the deficiencies in his moral character.  (And this has nothing to do with the fact that he is unqualified to hold this office).  Christian political witness has now come down to whether or not a candidate will promise to support a certain kind of Supreme Court justice or whether or not a candidate is Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

#theageoftrump also seems to be having an effect on Christian institutions of higher learning who want to have nationally-ranked sports programs.

As you may have seen in the news, Liberty University just hired former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw. I don’t know much about McCaw’s politics or Christian commitments. I assume that he is conservative and he is an evangelical.

I do know that he strengthened Baylor’s athletic program during his tenure in Waco. I also know that he knew about a gang-rape by Baylor football players and did not report it to school officials.  (We in central Pennsylvania know a thing or two about football coaches sitting on this kind of information).

It does not surprise me in the #ageoftrump that Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University and a strong Trump supporter who dismissed the POTUS-elect’s moral indiscretions, would hire McCaw as the university’s athletic director.  I am sure Falwell Jr. was grinning ear-to-ear when McCaw  announced that:

My vision for Liberty is to position it as a pre-eminent Christian athletic program in America and garner the same type of appeal among the Christian community as Notre Dame achieves among the Catholic community and BYU garners from the Mormons.

In fact, Falwell was so excited about McCaw that he turned to twitter:

Character and ethics no longer matter in the #ageoftrump.  What matters is making things great again.