Two weeks ago, the New England Patriots capped off another football season by hosting their fifth Lombardi trophy, (sorry to literally every NFL fan outside of the New England area for the reminder; I know the wounds are still fresh) after scoring twenty-five unanswered points and taking part in the first overtime Super Bowl game for a 34-28 victory. So that’s it, after the craziness and pointless scandal known as DeflateGate and 365 days of questioning anything that had to do with Pats success over the last fifteen years and a politically charged football season with National Anthem protest and an election that almost split locker rooms based on race, now the Patriots sit on top as the best team in football.
Cut to President Donald Trump (sorry 52 percent of the voting population of the United States, the other hundred million non-voters in the country, and most of the world; I know the wounds are still fresh) sitting in his Tower with a cavalcade of protesters and security guards outside his window. It is a long standing tradition for the professional sporting champions to visit the White House as a part of the team’s victory tour. However, almost immediately as the confetti fell in celebration and anti-depressants flew off the shelf for Falcons fans, a number of big name players on the Patriots have decided openly not to attend the celebration at the White House.
Individual players not attending the White House is not new. Players from Larry Bird and Michael Jordan to James Harrison have skipped for one reason or another. Some players have not gone because of political reason. Three Miami Dolphins from the 1972 Perfect Team did not go because of Nixon and Ravens’ Matt Birk not attending for Obama’s pro choice/pro Plan Parenthood stances.
Still, in this highly partisan time, starters LeGarrette Blount, Martellus Bennett, Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Alan Branch, and Chris Long have all declared not to go to the White House. Blount spoke out saying “I just don’t feel welcome in that house. I’ll just leave it at that.” McCourty and Bennett, both who were the only Patriots players to give a “Kaepernick like” national anthem protest by raising their fist in the black power salute in their season opener back in September also commented on their stances.
McCourty said, “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.” While Bennett commented by just saying, “I don’t support the guy that’s in the house.”
Chris Long, son of Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long and the only white player at this point not attending, actually responded to an open letter from New York Daily News writer Chuck Modiano congratulating Long for, as Modiano puts in, in a pathetic sea of NFL white silence this year, you are one of the only white NFL athletes who publicly seemed to “get it” after Colin Kaepernick took his national anthem stand.”
Though Long did not exactly take the letter as a ringing endorse, tweeting,
“Oh Chuck. Planned on skipping, hadn’t been asked. Don’t need an open letter explaining my own words to me. Not *joining* anyone. My call.”
In fact, Long out of all of his teammates seem to the most vocal in defending his position, using Twitter once again to go on a multi tweet message about his decision and some of the results of it, telling stories of fans who wished he hadn’t shaken his veteran father’s hand and criticizing the President’s birther movement and calls for fans to “stick to football.”
It doesn’t change the fact that six important players on a championship roster have publicly rejected the trip to Washington because of the man who is President. And it would be surprising not to see more Patriots players joining the six. Owner Robert Kraft does not really care about players who go or not. Neither does coach Bill Belichick. Tom Brady is a good friend of Trump, even being seen with a “MAGA” cap in his locker during training camp, though he has seem to distant himself away from the lightning rod of outrage known as Donald Trump.
Athletes for the next four years will be under some pressure in the decision that Patriots player face right now. Do you potentially alienate your brand by going to the White House or potentially alienate your brand by not attending? This is not going to be just a one time thing. The NBA has already seem to place their flag on the “not going” hill, with the biggest names like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Gregg Popovich, and others already openly criticising Trump. When that day comes, it’ll be interesting what Trump tweets out, because you know he’ll tweet something out.