A little less than a week after winning the Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals are still pondering the idea of a traditional White House visit. The majority of players asked Wednesday about a possible visit said they would attend, with the notable exception of forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who reiterated that he would not go.
President Trump has yet to officially invite the Capitals to the White House, but most major professional championship teams have received invitations in recent years.
“We all have our opinions on it; it’s a very sensitive issue,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik, one of six Americans on the Capitals’ roster. “It’s just kind of the way things are going these days. If you don’t have the same belief as somebody else then automatically they think you’re wrong and they take it personally, which politics isn’t supposed to be that way. You’re allowed to have disagreement, but my opinion is that you’re supposed to respect the other person’s decision.”
Orpik, who won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, added: “I know from past experiences it’s a really cool experience [to visit the White House]. I mean, you go there for three or four hours. For me, it’s a really cool celebration with your team celebrating a championship.”
Trump canceled the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles’ visit to the White House this month after some players said they would skip the ceremony to protest the president and his rhetoric. When the Golden State Warriors won the 2017 NBA championship, multiple players, including Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, said they would not visit the White House. They were later uninvited by Trump. The Warriors won another title this month, and Curry has already said he does not want to attend a White House celebration.
The WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx did not receive a White House invitation and instead this month made a trip to southeast D.C., where the team spent an afternoon handing out shoes to 300 elementary school students. Other title-winning teams, including the Houston Astros, Penguins and New England Patriots, have visited Trump’s White House.
Smith-Pelly, who is black and Canadian, was asked by a reporter before the Capitals won the Stanley Cup about potentially going to the White House. He said he did not want to go.
“The things that [Trump] spews are straight-up racist and sexist,” Smith-Pelly told a reporter from Canada’s Postmedia. “Some of the things he’s said are pretty gross. I’m not too into politics, so I don’t know all his other views, but his rhetoric I definitely don’t agree with. It hasn’t come up here, but I think I already have my mind made up.”
On Wednesday, Smith-Pelly said the team hasn’t talked about making a decision, but that the other players in the room “have his back.”
“I said what I said and that is what I believe,” Smith-Pelly said. “Again, I haven’t thought about it any more than that. I stand by what I said. … They can do whatever they want, you know what I mean. When I said what I said, no one in the room said, ‘Hey, maybe you should do this or maybe you should do that.’ Everyone can do whatever they want. I will still love Ovi if he goes and the other guys if they go.”
Capitals’ Coach Barry Trotz said he respects both sides of the debate over such visits, but that he sees visiting the White House as a valued sports tradition.
“I have my opinion on that which is part of the process of being a championship team, and other people have different opinions, so I respect both,” Trotz said. “I haven’t talked to the guys one way or the other. We haven’t had any official team meetings, but I respect both sides, really I do. Whatever the group decides, we will do it. I don’t know if it will be a full group, a half group, or no group, I have no idea. I think most guys have the tradition part down.”
Here is what other Capitals players said Wednesday about potentially visiting the White House:
Nicklas Backstrom (Swedish): “I would like to go there [White House]. I think the building is pretty cool. I mean, I’m not going to get into this discussion that a lot of other athletes are talking about. I think the building is pretty cool, and it’s an honor if the president invites you, I think.”
T.J. Oshie (American): “I’ve thought about it. I think it is an amazing tradition that you do. I realize everyone might have different stands on it, but I think going to the White House, whether people are very political or whether you like Trump or not, just kind of in my opinion, it stands for so much more than that. It is something people have been doing for a long time, with so many different presidents, that I think it would be cool for us to go there. … Any excuse to have the Cup with you I think, at least for me, I want to take advantage of it.”
Matt Niskanen (American): “I don’t have a really public opinion on that whole situation. Whatever the team decides to do I’ll support it. I’m an athlete, not a political pundit. I don’t believe these things should be mixed. Politics aside, the White House is a cool building, the presidency is a pretty cool thing. I never really understood why sports and that stuff gets mixed together, but I guess it’s kind of a cool thing.”
Brooks Orpik (American): “The time you actually spend with whoever is in office is about two minutes long. There’s not much interaction with the president, at least from past experience. All of a sudden, four years from now or eight years from now, there is somebody in office who you agree with more or whatever. … You don’t get the opportunity back as a team, I know that. Whether teams go or they don’t go, for me, personally, and again a lot of people might disagree with this, it’s not you endorsing whoever is in there or supporting whoever is in there. The White House is a very historical, special place in this country and I think it’s an honor to go to the White House. That’s my opinion and I’m not the one making that decision, whether or not we’re going to. So we’ll see.”
Tom Wilson (Canadian): “You weren’t going to let me off the hook easy. To me, I’m a Canadian, politics are not really in my nature. I don’t understand that, really. My parents told me when I go to the U.S., don’t talk politics, because you will get in trouble. But the White House is an amazing, historical place, and so much cool history has happened there. I think it’s unfair to judge what is happening [in] the moment, I always reflect. So much has gone into that place I think it would pretty cool to go there, no matter what is happening, and check it out.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov (Russian): “Yeah, it is cool for sure. Why you should not go, right? Like, we can see president, that is a huge privilege, even if it is not the president of my country, but still for me, it is a big privilege.”
Alex Ovechkin (Russian): “Yeah, looking forward. Can’t wait. I’ve never been there. Only taken pictures around it. It will be fun.”
Braden Holtby (Canadian): “I don’t know. We’re gonna try and make that a group decision. Weigh the positives and negatives of everything. In any situation like that, you want to make sure you’re doing what’s right for what you believe in and that should take thought and weigh a group decision. We’ll discuss that later.”
Philipp Grubauer (German): “It’s a tradition for everybody to go. It’s been uh … based on, it’s tradition you get invited, you go. I think the political standpoint has changed over the last couple of years; some are happy, some are not so happy. And I think once, if we get an invitation, once that’s here, I think we make a decision as an organization, as a group and then talk it over and plan from there. I don’t think Ivanka [Trump] said anything when she came over, she didn’t say anything, she didn’t know yet, so we’ll see. We ask her, ‘So what’s going on?’ And she couldn’t say.”
Dmitry Orlov (Russian): “Yeah, if we’re going to be invited then yeah, why not? I don’t see any problems going to White House. I think it is kind of traditional right now, and I think it will be pretty cool to see the White House.”
Jay Beagle (Canadian): “Yeah, well, obviously it’ll be up to the team. But I’ll go. I’m in!”
Lars Eller (Danish): “I expect to go.”
Michal Kempny (Czech): “Yeah, sure I am going to go there. I want to see it, inside.”
Jakub Vrana (Czech): “Honestly there is other guys who decide this, but, yeah, I was just kind of rolling with the group. Wherever we go, we go, I go. So, yeah, I talked about it, but that is how it is. We go home now, so yeah, it is exciting.”
Alex Chiasson (Canadian): “I’m Canadian. I think I’m not huge into politics and obviously there are things that are said and all that. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and I haven’t really put any thought into that.”
Andre Burakovsky (Swedish): “Obviously for me being a Swede to go to the most famous house in the world, I am going to be there. Be around the Cup, I am going to be around the Cup as much as I can. So wherever it goes, I go. That is something that is a traditional thing to do, for all the teams that is winning a championship, so yeah, it’s going to be fun.”
Isabelle Khurshudyan, Jesse Dougherty, Roman Stubbs and Kendra Andrews contributed to this report.
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