In American sports, it is a tradition for the championship-winning team to visit the White House and greet the president. Although there were a few drop-ins, the tradition did not become entrenched in American sports culture until the late 20th century when President Ronald Reagan made it a regular occurrence to host the champions at the White House. Images of the president holding up a jersey with a number denoting his position in the executive lineage (e.g., Barack Obama has more than enough #44 UConn Women’s Basketball jerseys) is commonplace in national sports nowadays. With the inauguration of Donald Trump, however, this patriotic tradition may be in jeopardy.
Several Patriot players have taken offense to Trump’s agenda. The immigration ban, reopening of the Dakota Access Pipeline, ordering of “the wall” and move to defund Planned Parenthood are just a few of the
incendiary actions Trump has already taken as President.
The nationwide furor over his divisive policies has pervaded into the sports world, with significant numbers of professional athletes (particularly within the NBA and NFL) speaking out in opposition to his policies. Expressing one’s disfavor is rhetorical. When Steph Curry says he disagrees with his sponsor’s pro-Trump position, it merely materializes an understandable displeasure with the White House. Now that we have had an American champion anointed with the New England Patriots winning Super Bowl LI, athletes’ positions on politics will have a legitimate physical encounter with the Trump presidency.
Six Patriots have already vowed to not visit the White House when the time comes for their team to be congratulated by Trump. To give some perspective on the magnitude of this story, only three players since 2000 have skipped the White House visit because of political reasons: Tim Thomas (2011
Boston Bruins) Matt Birk (2012 Baltimore Ravens), and Jake Arrieta (2016 Chicago Cubs) all did not visit because of their objections to President Obama’s politics. Devin McCourty, a three-time All-Pro safety and vocal leader of the defense, explained why he is refusing to shake Trump’s hand: “Basic reason for me is I don’t feel accepted in the White House. With the president having so many strong prejudices, I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t,” McCourty explained. While McCourty was well reasoned in his decline to visit, running-back LeGarrette Blount, who led the NFL in rushing touchdowns, was more succinct on the matter: “I will NOT be going to the White House. I do not feel welcome in that house. I’ll leave it at that,” Blount said on the Rich Eisen Show.
Should players be allowed to skip the White House visit because of personal ideaology, or is blowing it off a strike to the idea of teamwork and patriotism? For a long time, the realm of sports has been a refuge isolated from political discussion. All that matters on the field is how well one can perform with his or her teammates under pressure. If each player does his or her job (ironically enough the mantra for the Patriots this season) by pushing themselves, individually, for the greater success of the team, then they will win a championship.
One could criticize McCourty and the other five Patriots for disrespecting the patriotic rite of passage by bailing on their teammates with whom they’ve worked so hard.
Regardless, what a player does off the field is totally personal. Once the confetti has fallen, and the championship parade crowds dispersed, the athletes return to their regular lives, and within that realm is politics.
So, I think that it is fair to say that each New England Patriot, and every champion from here on out, should have the choice on whether or not to visit the White House. If a player does not feel welcome because of the current
administration, he or she should not feel compelled to attend the ceremony.