Some players to skip, may visit Obama instead
by Jack Archambault
Several members of the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots are not interested in free “hamberders”. Just weeks after President Trump welcomed the Clemson Tigers football team to the White House with a fast food feast during the government shutdown, three Patriots players have expressed their intentions to skip the traditional visit. But don’t get it McTwisted – this decision has nothing to do with counting calories and everything to do with Trump.
So far, three Patriots players, safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon and cornerback Jason McCourty, have said they will not visit the White House with the team.
“They don’t want me in the White House,” Harmon told TMZ in the aftermath of the Patriots’ 13-3 win over the Rams on February 3.
This is the same reason Devin McCourty and former running back LeGarrette Blount gave in 2017 for refusing to visit after the team’s win in Super Bowl LI. Said McCourty at that 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.”
Skipping the White House visit is nothing new for athletes, so is the decision these three are making (with more sure to follow) really such a big deal? Well, yes and no.
The Patriots have made five previous visits to the White House, in 2002, ’04, ’05, ’15, and ’17. The ’02 and ’15 visits, hosted by Presidents Bush and Obama, respectively, each saw nearly 50 players show up. The other three were attended by closer to 35 players. Time also may have played a role in these figures, as the ’02 visit came after the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory and the ’15 visit came after its first in 10 years. When asked in 2017 about why some players chose not to visit the White House, Patriots VP of Media Relations Stacey James said some players did not see the need to attend twice in three years. Even quarterback Tom Brady chose not to attend in ’15 or ’17, citing family matters as the reason for his absence.
The Patriots have won a lot. It is perfectly reasonable to expect that some players have White House fatigue. But ever since Trump took office there has been more to it than that, as an event that was once relatively harmless has turned into a yearly reckoning on the intersection of sports, politics, patriotism, and racism. It seems every year we finally stop just short of asking Brady for his thoughts on combating cyberterrorism.
Just last year the Philadelphia Eagles were disinvited from the White House after it was revealed that only 10 players were planning on attending. Trump also “disinvited” the NBA champion Golden State Warriors when no players were planning on attending. So what did the Warriors do? On January 24, they went to visit Obama instead. Duron Harmon also likes the sound of that idea, saying, “Hey Obama, man, come holler at me. We love you over here.”
Yes, athletes skipping the White House visit was a regular occurrence before Trump assumed office. The difference between then and now is that now, race is the main factor. Of the 15 Warriors who rejected Trump’s invitation before he even extended it, 14 were black. Of the 57 black players on Clemson’s roster, just 15 visited the White House. Trump’s rescinded the Eagles’ invitation because he disagreed with many players’ decision to protest police brutality against black Americans by kneeling for the national anthem (never mind the fact that no Eagles players actually knelt for the anthem). Correlation does not always imply causation, but when the sitting President has been endorsed by David Duke and has called white nationalists “fine people”, it’s easy to see why black athletes might not want to pay him a visit.
Amid these declined invitations to visit the White House and all the bungled attempts by Trump to blame them on anything other than his extreme unpopularity among black Americans, it is easy to lose sight of what these White House visits really are: PR opportunities that are not as important as anyone makes them seem. At these visits, the President yuks it up with the owner and players, takes a few pictures, and everyone forgets it ever happened. If the McCourty twins don’t like Trump, they shouldn’t be forced to go meet him. If Harmon would rather kick it with Obama, that’s fine too.
Besides, it’s not as though the purpose of these visits is for Bill Belichick to help Trump break down strategies for intervention in Syria like he’s scheming a way to contain Todd Gurley.
Actually, with this President’s track record, maybe it is. You might want to make the trip, Mr. Belichick, the President might need the help of someone who knows a thing or two about winning.