Each year the United States government invites the winning teams of America’s most beloved sports to visit the White House. It is an opportunity for some of the athletic and political elite to meet and snap photos but this year it has been a source of controversy. Super Bowl winners have opted out of the White House visit before. Tom Brady skipped the trip when the New England Patriots won in 2015. Donald Trump’s inauguration as the United States’ 45th president came two weeks before Super Bowl 51 and was a polarizing figure throughout the election process. Brady does not openly talk about politics, but he and Trump are known to be good friends from before the new President was a politician.
Is it disrespectful to decline?
Brady will be visiting along with the majority of the New England Patriots later this month, but six players so far have opted out. These players are not bench warmers either. Starting safety Devon McCourty told Time Magazine he does not feel respected in the White House. “I don’t feel welcome in that house,” said starting running back LeGarrette Blount.
It is the choice of the player whether to accept or decline the invite to the White House. In the past players skipped and there was little to no media coverage, but Trump isn’t like most Presidents. Before the Super Bowl Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu — a practicing Muslim for his entire life — was asked to comment on Trump’s recent immigration ban. Sanu chose not to comment on the matter despite being asked by almost every media outlet. Sanu decided to steer clear of talking about politics before the Super Bowl. The Patriots haven’t been as quiet, and everyone is interested to see what side of the scale their favorite athletes fall on.
Time to stop invites
The United States government and the NFL are unintentionally creating a media controversy that would be better left alone. Americans enjoy seeing the traditional pictures of the team and President smiling and possibly the handing over of a custom jersey for the Commander in Chief. But the gesture that began in 1865 with President Andrew Johnson is now used as a statement of political beliefs. One of the reasons players skipping is making headlines this time around is the way they are announcing not going. Brady in 2015 announced a “family confliction” even though there were rumors it was political.
It is best just to stop the tradition of White House visits altogether. What was once a positive press opportunity for both the government and the organization is now a source of scrutiny. Players should not have to display their political beliefs to the world by either accepting or declining a visit to the nation’s capital. All professional organizations have mandatory events for their players each season. It is in the player’s contracts, but crossing over to politics is asking too much.