BOSTON (CBS) — Back when Tedy Bruschi played for the Patriots, his relationship with Bill Belichick was entirely based on football. Yet now more than a decade later, Bruschi sees a changed man in charge of the Patriots.

A seven-time team captain, Bruschi explained that during his tenure playing for the legendary head coach, anything that took place off the field was largely kept off the field. Yet with Belichick choosing to not accept the Medal of Freedom from President Trump this week, Bruschi said that Belichick’s approach to running the team has clearly changed significantly.

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“I think there’s been a wakening with Bill, in terms of 2020, with COVID, and the social justice issues, him learning what it’s like to be a Black man in America, those types of things. Leaders like Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, sort of letting them in in certain conversations of ‘this is what it’s like for us, and we’re trying to make you more aware,” Bruschi said on Ordway, Merloni & Fauria on WEEI. “And I think Bill, turning down this medal — I think it’s the biggest honor a civilian can have — just to say, ‘I’m with you guys.’ I think that’s an important message that he has to and had to sort of convey, because that’s what it says. ‘I’m aware of my players. I’m aware what they’re going through, and I’m with them.’ And that’s why I’m so proud of him and what he did — not so much about politics or anything like that, fellas. He’s more connected now to his locker room than I think he’s been in a long, long time.”

Bruschi, now a commentator at ESPN, said that even putting politics aside, he was proud to see that kind of growth from his former coach.

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“I think Bill knows he can’t please everybody, but I’m proud of him for what he did. And I say that not with any feelings of President Trump or President-Elect Biden or how I feel in that aspect, but just proud of my coach based on, I would say, the awareness he showed in declining the Medal of Freedom and not go down there and just saying no. Because him being aware more now of his players’ lives off the field. … when I played for Bill, it was few and far between in terms of what things were like for me at home, what things were like for me off the field. It was important if it affected me and my performance on the field. I mean, ‘we don’t want you to get in trouble,’ and all of that. But it was all about football, the whole aspect of your position, all of that. Mainly that. ”

With President Trump getting impeached by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, the decision to not go to D.C. to accept the honor may seem like the only choice Belichick had. But Bruschi said it likely wasn’t so simple.

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“The way that I know Bill, OK, let’s put it this way: he considered everything,” Bruschi said. “And he took the opinions of people that he trusts. He considered both sides, and of course that’s how he does all equations in his life I’m sure. And I’m sure that’s the way he came to the decision.”

CBSBoston.com Staff