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Whitlock: Bill Belichick misses America’s old-school toughness more than he misses Tom Brady

Op-ed
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My takeaway from the historic Tom Brady-Bill Belichick clash Sunday night is rather unusual:

We've created a culture so soft, so free of uncomfortable truth, that it's nearly impossible for anyone to do their jobs at a high level. We're all on eggshells, afraid of causing a moment's discomfort, worried we might say something that can be twisted for clicks and tricks, terrified we could lose access to someone important.

Bill Belichick blew last night's football game. He needed to be called out on NBC's telecast. It didn't happen because our safe-space culture frowns on mild critique.

In the final minute of Tampa Bay's 19-17 victory over the Patriots, Belichick continued his bad streak of poor decision-making, a streak that started the day he decided he'd rather move on from Tom Brady than acquiesce to Brady's small demands.

Facing fourth and three with 59 seconds to play, Belichick sent Nick Folk onto the field to attempt a 56-yard field goal in the pouring rain. The kick would've given New England the lead by a single point. Tampa Bay still had two timeouts and Tom Brady.

Make or miss, it was a really dumb decision. There was too much time on the clock. A week ago, on Sunday Night Football, Aaron Rodgers drove the Green Bay Packers into field-goal range in 37 seconds without any timeouts. On Tampa's previous possession, Brady tossed two would-be long TD passes to receiver Antonio Brown. Brown lost the first one in the rain and the lights. He dropped the second, a perfect rainbow that descended from the heavens.

But there was more. Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones earned the right to throw at least one more pass. He'd completed 31 of 40 on the night. There was no indication the moment was too big for Jones.

It was for Belichick. He choked.

Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, NBC's terrific broadcast team, never commented on the foolishness of Belichick's decision. I can't really blame them.

Our culture overreacts to criticism. Had they second-guessed Belichick's obvious error from the broadcast booth, they would become the story, not Belichick.

Michaels and Collinsworth blast Belichick!

There would be endless debate about the appropriateness of criticizing the greatest coach in NFL history, a six-time Super Bowl winner. Belichick could become even more aloof and dismissive. He could treat Michaels and Collinsworth the way he does the rest of the media … with disdain.

Better to leave the discussion of Belichick's boneheaded strategy to Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless, easy-to-ignore football "experts."

I'm not criticizing Michaels, Collinsworth, Smith, or Bayless. I'm criticizing the culture created by social justice warriors. They've outlawed legitimate criticism. They've cultivated safe spaces for elites. Fair criticism is defined as hate or racism. Multimillionaire football players wear helmets with slogans attached to the back that demand we "stop hate" and "end racism."

They're warm and fuzzy sentiments with no tangible finish line or path. What the sentiments create is hostility toward truth and fear of honest discussion. We've eliminated Howard Cosell from the broadcast booth and replaced him with cheerleaders.

What's the point of knowing the game at a high level if you're prevented from discussing what you know?

This is a culture problem, not a football problem, not a Collinsworth and Michaels problem. They're bowing to the culture.

Bill Belichick — like LeBron James, Gregg Popovich, Barack Obama, Beyonce, and Saint George Floyd — has ascended to heights not achieved by Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, or Michael Jordan in his playing prime. Belichick is an icon above serious questioning. He's Football Jesus. It's an honor to share the planet with Belichick.

Again, I'm criticizing the culture, not Belichick.

Questioning Belichick's decision-making does not diminish Belichick. He's proven his greatness. His status as football's greatest coach isn't up for debate.

What can and should be questioned is whether he's lost a coaching step or two. No one sits on the throne forever. He miscalculated on Brady. It's not as bad as the Boston Red Sox's Babe Ruth miscalculation, but Belichick clearly gave up on his star pupil three years too soon.

And guess what? Belichick probably pushed Brady aside out of fear of the woke mob. Belichick was trapped by his history of letting his stars (Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Lawyer Milloy) leave a year too early rather than a year too late. Had Belichick made an exception for Brady, the woke sports media would have accused the legendary coach of providing Brady with white privilege.

Sounds crazy? Does it sound crazier than statues of George Floyd? Maria Taylor insinuating Drew Brees is racist because he defended the flag and the national anthem? Arguing that men can have babies?

The American media eat crazy for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bedtime snacks.

Our country is crazy because we've let social media apps outlaw any truth that causes the slightest discomfort. We've gone from no pain, no gain to whatever annoys destroys.

Here's the real irony: The softening of America is why Belichick is in decline. It's not the absence of Brady. You can't be Bill Belichick in a culture this soft.
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