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Sean Doolittle on declining White House invite: ‘I don’t want to hang out with somebody who talks like that’

Sean Doolittle decided to decline an invitation to the Washington Nationals' World Series celebration at the White House on Monday. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Ever since Sean Doolittle was traded to the Washington Nationals in the summer of 2017, the reliever often was asked whether he would visit the White House after winning the World Series.

He pondered but never answered. He thought it would be hollow to respond — like discussing a hypothetical lottery win — because the Nationals fell short in his first season and didn’t make the playoffs the next year. But then the Nationals became World Series champions when they beat the Houston Astros on Wednesday. Then Doolittle, long known for his liberal opinions and willingness to share them, had a real decision to make.

Doolittle chose not to attend a White House ceremony slated for Monday. He is the first Nationals player to publicly confirm that, although multiple people close to the team said a handful of players are wrestling with the decision. He explained his reasons in a lengthy interview with The Washington Post on Friday night. It starts with not compromising his beliefs and an aversion to President Donald Trump’s actions despite wanting to celebrate with teammates as much as possible.

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“There’s a lot of things, policies that I disagree with, but at the end of the day, it has more to do with the divisive rhetoric and the enabling of conspiracy theories and widening the divide in this country. My wife and I stand for inclusion and acceptance, and we’ve done work with refugees, people that come from, you know, the ‘shithole countries,' ” Doolittle said, referring to Trump’s comments about Haiti, El Salvador and African nations in a January 2018 meeting.

“At the end of the day, as much as I wanted to be there with my teammates and share that experience with my teammates, I can’t do it,” Doolittle continued. “I just can’t do it.”

After the World Series victory, Doolittle was surprised that he was having trouble with the decision. He knew, almost right away, that he didn’t want to go. But he also considered how little time these Nationals have left together. They had the parade through Washington on Saturday, then the White House visit, and then everyone will leave for their offseason homes. A handful of players will exit in free agency, and new faces will come in. They will next convene for reunions down the line.

The underdog Nationals became the first team in major league history to win the World Series by claiming four games on the road. (Video: Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post, Photo: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

But that ultimately didn’t change Doolittle’s feelings about Trump and his administration. Doolittle also noted Friday that he did not want to be a distraction for teammates who wanted to go for the experience of meeting the president. He added that they respected his decision, and he respects theirs.

“I feel very strongly about his issues on race relations,” Doolittle said, and he listed the Fair Housing Act, the Central Park Five and Trump’s comments following a white supremacist rally in 2017. He also mentioned that his wife, Eireann Dolan, has two mothers who are very involved in the LGBTQ community.

“I want to show support for them. I think that’s an important part of allyship, and I don’t want to turn my back on them,” Doolittle said. “I have a brother-in-law who has autism, and [Trump] is a guy that mocked a disabled reporter. How would I explain that to him that I hung out with somebody who mocked the way that he talked or the way that he moves his hands? I can’t get past that stuff.”

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Before publicizing his decision, Doolittle looked up how Braden Holtby and Chris Long discussed their choice not to attend championship ceremonies at the White House. Holtby, whom Doolittle called “the real saves leader in D.C.," did not go to the White House when the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018. Long chose not to when the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2018, but the Eagles were later uninvited by Trump because many players expressed that they did not want to visit.

Doolittle deleted Twitter from his iPhone until the Nationals won the World Series. But now that he has the app back and his decision is out there, he already has seen people telling him to respect the office of the president. He views that as the default answer from those who believe athletes should attend White House ceremonies no matter what. And he has a succinct response.

“People say you should go because it’s about respecting the office of the president,” Doolittle said. “And I think over the course of his time in office he’s done a lot of things that maybe don’t respect the office.”

“The rhetoric, time and time again, has enabled those kind of behaviors,” Doolittle continued, referring to racism and white supremacy. “That never really went away, but it feels like now people with those beliefs, they maybe feel a little bit more empowered. They feel like they have a path, maybe. I don’t want to hang out with somebody who talks like that.”

Instead, once the weekend is over and the car is packed, Doolittle and Dolan will drive Monday afternoon to Williamsburg, Va., to see his grandfather. Then they will begin their trek home to Chicago, where they bought a house last winter, and enjoy the downtime after an eight-month season. Doolittle hopes his teammates enjoy the White House visit, and he said that genuinely; he just didn’t feel that he could take part.

“I don’t want to get mad online, as they say,” he said. “I want people to know that I put thought into this, and at the end of the day, I just can’t go.”

Nats players Kurt Suzuki and Sean Doolittle talk about their favorite moments from their season as they ride through the 2019 World Series parade. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/The Washington Post)

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