At a time when some teams have publicly debated whether to accept invitations to the White House, Dawn Staley has simply wanted to see that honor accorded her South Carolina Gamecocks. On Wednesday, though, the coach indicated that she might be no longer interested in attending a ceremony U.S. presidents have traditionally extended to championship squads.
“Here’s my take, and I’m not going to discuss the White House anymore. As far as I’m concerned, I’m over the White House thing,” Staley told reporters at the Gamecocks’ practice facility.
“The only invitation I would like is an invitation to get into the NCAA tournament in March. That’s the only invite that I’m looking forward to.”
On Friday, Staley told the Associated Press that she and her team, which won the Gamecocks’ first NCAA basketball title in April, were still waiting for the same recognition that had been offered to every national champion since 1983. “We haven’t gotten an invitation yet and that in itself speaks volumes,” she said.
“We won before those other teams won their championships,” Staley added, referring to teams such as the Golden State Warriors and Pittsburgh Penguins. “I don’t know what else has to happen.”
After Steph Curry, whose Warriors won the NBA title in June, said in September that he was not interested in going to the White House, President Trump tweeted that the “invitation is withdrawn.” The team then issued a statement expressing disappointment “that we did not have an opportunity during this process to share our views or have open dialogue on issues impacting our communities that we felt would be important to raise.”
Golden State said that it would use its trip to Washington in February to play the Wizards “to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion.” Meanwhile, the Penguins announced last month that they had “accepted an invitation” to the White House, with the date yet to be scheduled.
“The Pittsburgh Penguins respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House,” the Penguins said in a statement. “We attended White House ceremonies after previous championships — touring the historic building and visiting briefly with Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama — and have accepted an invitation to attend again this year.”
However, the Democratic mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, said he would not accompany the Penguins because of Trump’s criticism of NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. Following Trump’s election, the question of whether to visit the White House became a major issue for many athletes, who found fault with what they saw as his divisive rhetoric and policies, and some players skipped champions’ visits this year by the New England Patriots and Chicago Cubs.
For much of this year, the 47-year-old Staley, in her 10th season with the Gamecocks, was wondering if she and her players would even have the chance to consider visiting the White House. Immediately after winning the title in April, she said, “It’s what national champions do. We’ll go to the White House.”
In her comments to the AP, though, Staley struck a different tone, saying that her eagerness to make the visit was expressed before “some things transpired over the last few months.” She added, “I haven’t talked to anyone about it. I got bigger fish to fry than worry about an invitation.”
Following those remarks, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who stepped down as governor of South Carolina to join Trump’s administration in January, told the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier that the Gamecocks would receive an invitation later this fall.
The North Carolina Tar Heels, who won the men’s NCAA basketball title in April, said last month that they had received a White House invitation but would not make the trip. A spokesman for the team said that political considerations were not involved and the players “were fine with going,” but the two parties “couldn’t find a date that worked.”
Staley herself has made the champions’ visit to the White House in the past. A former star player at the University of Virginia, she went on to help Team USA win three Olympic gold medals, and she and her teammates received congratulations from former president George W. Bush in 2004.
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