While championship sports teams making a visit to the White House has long since become an annual tradition, a newer one has emerged since President Trump took office: athletes following up a title-winning performance by declaring that they’ll skip the trip.
Sure enough, the confetti had barely stopped raining down on the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots before several members of the team, all defensive backs, said they had no desire to go to the White House. One player, asked if he was interested in emulating an example recently set by the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, expressed a strong interest in meeting with former president Barack Obama.
“That would be dope,” Patriots safety Duron Harmon said, adding, “Hey, Obama, come holler at me. We love you over here, man.”
Trump hasn’t always felt much love from championship teams, most notably the Warriors and the Philadelphia Eagles — last year’s Super Bowl winners — but he has touted his friendships with Patriots Coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft. In addition, quarterback Tom Brady has been a golfing partner of Trump’s and a “Make America Great Again” hat was spotted in his locker in 2015.
After the Patriots' previous Super Bowl win, in 2017, Brady did not visit the White House but indicated it was for family-related reasons. Other members of that team, though, stated they were skipping it for political reasons, including Devin McCourty, who said at the time, “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.”
Perhaps it should not have been surprising, then, that McCourty wasted little time again declaring that he would not accompany the Patriots to the White House, following their 13-3 win Sunday over the Rams. According to the Associated Press, after McCourty said Monday he wasn’t going, his teammate and twin brother Jason McCourty hedged a bit on the issue, saying, “I haven’t thought about it, but I highly doubt it.”
The Associated Press’s Jimmy Golen reported that Devin McCourty then “playfully accused him of lying and Jason agreed there was virtually zero chance he would go.”
Harmon made his comments to a TMZ Sports interviewer while leaving Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium shortly after helping New England’s defense lead the way in the low-scoring contest. The sixth-year veteran, who passed on his team’s trip in 2017, said Sunday, “Nah, man, they don’t want me in the White House.”
If recent history is any indication, the three New England players will be joined by at least a few more teammates in declining the trip, although not all necessarily for stated reasons related to Trump. In 2017, then-Patriots defensive lineman Alan Branch said that he wanted to use the time to spend with his family, while linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who passed on a visit to Obama’s White House when New England won the Super Bowl in 2015, referred to a similar trip he made while with the Alabama Crimson Tide in saying, “Been there, done that.”
However, there’s no doubt at this point that the Patriots will send a contingent of some sort to the White House later this year, unlike the Eagles, who defeated New England in the 2018 Super Bowl. Just before Philadelphia was set to make its visit in June, despite several players expressing antipathies to Trump and his policies, the president announced he was rescinding his invitation and instead would hold a “very patriotic” event featuring football fans and the United States Marine Band and Army Chorus.
Trump pointed at the time to the protests some NFL players were staging during pregame renditions of the national anthem, although no Eagles players had taken a knee during the song. “They disagree with their president because he insists that they proudly stand for the national anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country,” he said in a statement.
That followed Trump’s tweeted declaration the preceding September that the Warriors' invitation was “withdrawn,” because of “hesitation” by Golden State star Stephen Curry. The two-time NBA MVP had already strongly suggested that he and his teammates had no desire to make the visit, saying they didn’t stand for “what our president . . . said and the things that he hasn’t said in the right terms.”
Having won another NBA title last year, the Warriors were not about to make their first visit to Trump’s White House, even if he were inclined to issue an invitation. Instead, the team visited Obama at his home in Washington, D.C., while on a road trip to play the Wizards.
Players from title-winning teams haven’t started skipping White House trips only since Trump took office, although his presidency has unleashed a notably widespread wave of vocal opposition from the sports world. During Obama’s two terms, championship athletes who declined to accompany their teams included Ravens center Matt Birk, who in 2013 cited his opposition to Obama’s support for Planned Parenthood, and Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who said in a 2012 Facebook post, “I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.”
In an interview with CBS News shown before Sunday’s Super Bowl, Trump predicted that the Patriots would emerge triumphant. “They have, I guess, the greatest quarterback of all time,” he asserted. “So, I would say they would win.”
Later in the interview, Trump said, “People love to come to the White House. So the Patriots were here two years ago, and I’m sure they’ll be back.”
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