As sports athletes across the spectrum continue to be more vocal in response to a Donald Trump presidency, we can potentially see the end of a sports tradition that should have never been started.
Outside of Atlanta Falcons fans, if you love controversy then you should have been rooting for the New England Patriots to win Super Bowl LI. The prospect of having to see NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell potentially have to hand the Lombardi Trophy to the Patriots organization intrigued even the most casual fan, given his contentious relationship with the team.
It’s no secret that the three most notable faces associated with the New England Patriots, Tom Brady, Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick have come out on the record as supporters of the newly elected President.
Each individual citing a different reason for why they support Trump, whether it is personal, based on friendship or loyalty.
So you can almost guarantee that the New England Patriots, led by quarterback, coach and owner wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to have their good friend in Trump celebrate them on their accomplishments.
Not so fast.
A week prior to the actual game and immediately following the Patriots improbable Super Bowl comeback, tight end Martellus Bennett said that he would not attend any White House celebrations of the win if invited.
Bennett has gone on the record publicly and via social media expressing that he doesn’t support the current administration.
Our freedoms come to us because of the actions of previous generations who strove to contribute beyond themselves. #BlackHistoryMonth
— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) February 10, 2017
Shortly thereafter fellow teammate Devin McCourty said he would also not be visiting Trump. “I’m not going to the White House,” he told TIME Magzine in a text message: “Basic reason for me is I don’t feel accepted in the White House. With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t.”
When linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich visited ESPN they were probed as to whether or not they would attend any celebrations at Trump’s White House. Hightower said, “been there, done that,” having visited with a championship Alabama team and Ninkovich said he probably wouldn’t attend as well.
In a radio interview with Fox Sports LeGarrette Blount told the Rich Eisen Show, “I just don’t feel welcome in that house.” “I’m going to leave it at that.” Other notable players who declined were defensive tackle Alan Branch and defensive end Chris Long.
As the number of Patriot players snubbing the White House continues to grow, the New England Patriots organization has a conundrum on their hands.
To visit or not visit is the question?
According to Thomas Neumann of ESPN, the longstanding tradition of sports teams visiting the White House dates back to at least August 30th, 1865. Then-President Andrew Johnson welcomed the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals amateur baseball clubs.
Since its inception in American sports culture, several other presidents such as Ulysses S. Grant, Calvin Coolidge, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan all the way up to Barack H. Obama have hosted a myriad of sports teams over the years.
And simultaneously, the tradition of players electing not to attend isn’t something new we’re seeing.
While most athletes will cite their reason for not visiting the White House is because of prior family commitments or scheduling conflicts, when you get an invite to go, barring death, you generally make a valiant effort to go.
Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta, noted Trump supporter, chose not to visit the White House while President Obama was still in office.
Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins who identifies as a member of the Tea Party didn’t show up to the White House back in 2012, issuing a statement, “I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People,” but said, “This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.”
Other notable athletes such as Larry Bird and Michael Jordan also chose not to attend when their respective teams were invited.
In the spirit of fairness, this isn’t an issue of Black and White as much as people would like to make it out to be. This is an issue of some individuals letting their own personal beliefs supersede the team’s accomplishment.
For those who pretend to have selective amnesia, Brady did not visit the White House when President Obama was in office.
Brady said that he had a prior family obligation and as a result was unable to attend. Some speculate his reason could have been politically motivated, seeing as how he attended when then Republican President George W. Bush was in office.
Others felt Brady might have been ticked at the Obama administration for a jab that Obama’s then press secretary Josh Earnest took at the star quarterback after his less than stellar press conference following the Deflategate saga. “For years, it’s been clear that there is no risk that I was going to take Tom Brady’s job as quarterback of the New England Patriots. But I can tell you that as of today, it’s pretty clear that there’s no risk of him taking my job either,” said Earnest.
Imagine how it will look if Brady attends this White House ceremony, with his friend-in-chief Donald Trump in office.
The optics will look bad. Brady has already been forced to answer for having a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat in his locker area.
This is why the tradition of teams visiting the White House, regardless of what person or political party occupies the office should be disbanded.
It puts players in a lose-lose position where they will either be made out to be villains who have an agenda for not going, or forced to succumb to external pressures, despite personal views they may harbor.
With the Patriots slated to visit Trump’s White House sometime in the summer, it will be interesting to see if some, all or even none of the players attend.
For a White House administration that seems to buck tradition at every step of the way, it’s refreshing to see athletes doing the same.
Marcus Lamar is a Washington D.C.-based sports journalist. You can check out his podcast “Marc My Words” on Soundcloud, YouTube and coming to iTunes soon. Follow him on Twitter @iam_marcuslamar.