The first president to welcome a sports team to the White House was Andrew Johnson. He invited the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals on August 30, 1865. The tradition has grown a great deal over the years, but the current scenario in which all major sports champions visit the White House was greatly influenced by President Ronald Reagan.
While it is impossible to tell for certain, I’m certain this simple tradition has been politicized for some time now.
President Obama’s invitations to major championship winning organizations has been rebuffed and politicized by individual players on multiple occasions. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison’s was absent during the team’s White House visits in ’06, when George W. Bush was in office, and in ’09, when Obama resided there.
There are many instances of athletes making political statements with their absences over the years.
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Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas didn’t go see Obama in 2012 due to his disdain for big government and policies that intrude on civil liberties from both parties. Matt Birk didn’t go when the Baltimore Ravens won in 2013 due to the administration’s stance on abortion. And New England Patriots star quarterback, and current Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady didn’t go two years ago when Barack made his infamous Deflategate joke.
An April 28, 2015 story published in the New York Post alluded to another Deflategate quip made by then White House press secretary Josh Earnest prior to the visit. As hyper-competitive as Brady is, I can imagine how a ‘cheating’ joke wouldn’t fly over so well with him. However, I can also imagine a deeper political reason since his personal alignment with President Trump can be traced to his own conservative Heartland value system.
Many believe Trump to be the anti-Obama. Does Brady? I wonder.
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In the meantime, his faux political ambiguity is starting to really wear thin. There has been a great deal of forgetful outrage coming from all corners of American society as mainstream talking heads and Twitterverse trolls crow regarding New England Patriots players Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty, who told Time via text message on Monday:
“I’m not going to the White House. 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.”
Bennett was right out with it in the glow of his team’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. “It is what it is,” Bennett said after the game. “People know how I feel about it.”
The current political atmosphere in America is as divisive as it has ever been and it is inevitable that others will refuse to go the White House. It is also inevitable that of those who refuse to go, a select few will admit the reasons are political in nature. I for one believe it is intelligent of Bennett and McCourty not to go.
The last brother who chose to make a political statement DURING the White House visit didn’t fend very well afterwards. His name was Craig Hodges. I’d rather they speak their piece from a distance than make it awkward for teammates during a well-intentioned political protest that explodes in their faces and destroys their careers.