Opinion: Don’t force Patriots to visit the White House

Nicholas Hunter

Nicholas Hunter

The tradition of professional sports champions having a photo-op at the White House can be traced all the way back to the presidency of Calvin Coolidge, when he invited the Washington Senators for a visit after their 1924 World Series win.

Since Ronald Reagan began inviting the winners of the Super Bowl, NBA Championship, World Series and later the Stanley Cup to the White House in 1984, there have been players who have opted to not attend the ceremony. That year’s NBA Champions, among other members of the champion Boston Celtics, was NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird, who gave no specific reason for his absence.

Thirty-three years later, we are seeing the largest number of players announcing they do not intend to visit the White House with Super Bowl winning team, the New England Patriots, to meet President Donald Trump. Six players have stated they will not be joining the team, with another player, running back James White, saying he will wait until an official invite is offered to decide.

On the Fox Sports talk and debate show, Undisputed, former NFL player Shannon Sharpe suggested that the team take a collective vote to decide whether or not to make an appearance at the White House, saying that, if the trend continued and more players opt out, “It would be a bad look for the football team and it would be a really tough spot to put those seven players in.”

Nelly, a rapper and guest commentator on the show, disagreed with this idea. “He opened this box,” he said, referring to the Patriots quarterback’s refusal to join his team when they visited the White House, then under Barack Obama, after their Super Bowl win in 2015.

“Tom Brady, we didn’t have a team vote when you were blatantly showing that you were supporting Trump,” said Nelly, in reference to Brady having a “Make America Great Again” hat displayed in his locker after a game in September of 2015.

To expect these players to take a vote to decide whether to visit the White House is wrong for two reasons.

First, no matter the result, some players will be forced into a decision. If the vote is in favor of going, these players who have already stated their intent to not go will be humiliated into going by their teammates.

On the other hand, if the vote landed in favor of skipping the invite, then an opportunity to take part in a longstanding tradition is stripped away.

More importantly, it takes accountability away. It would allow players who wish to avoid making a statement to hide behind the members of the team willing to stand up for their beliefs. Whether these players (or their fans) like it or not, political issues permeate all facets of life.

Professional football players are also citizens, who are affected by politics in their daily lives. To put some players in a situation where they must compromise their morals and personal views for the sake of keeping one player – specifically a player who has previously skipped out on the same event for political reasons in the past – feels patently un-American.

Nicholas Hunter is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].