From the moment the New England Patriots won their fifth national title in an overtime 34-28 finish to win Super Bowl LI, many Patriots players made it clear that they would not attend the subsequent visit to the White House. It has been a long-running tradition for the national champions of most American professional and collegiate sports leagues to visit the President and take a group picture on the south lawn of the White House.
But that was before Donald Trump was sworn into office.
President’s Trump controversial actions both during his campaign and presidency have enraged millions of Americans and many New England Patriots players decided to boycott such behavior and to make a statement by not attending the visit.
“It is what it is. People know how I feel about it. Just follow me on Twitter,” said tight end Martellus Bennett once he announced his decision not to meet President Trump. Bennett has long been an opponent of Trump stating on Twitter that the United States was built on inclusiveness and that Trump represents exclusiveness. In an interview with TIME, defensive back and captain Devin McCourty stated his reasoning behind the boycott. “The basic reason for me is that 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 don’t.”
A month after Super Bowl LI (which took place on February 5, 2017) 12 players had confirmed that they would skip the White House visit. By April 2017, that number rose to 34.
“When my son grows up, I believe the legacy of our president is going to be what it is. I don’t want him to say, ‘Hey Dad, why’d you go when you knew the right thing was to not go?'”, said defensive end Chris Long (referring to the White House visit) while filming a video made by the Patriots Organization to thank their fans.
However, no single Patriots player has caused as much controversy amidst the debate of attending the White House visit than star quarterback Tom Brady. Brady opted out of attending the Patriots’ White House visit in 2015 when former-President Barack Obama was in office. Many have cited Brady’s decision to skip a meeting with Obama as justification for why the Super Bowl LI champions could/should skip a meeting with Trump. The famous St. Louis-based rapper Nelly said, “I love Tom Brady, but he opened this box. He started it when he chose to support Trump and skip out on Obama.”
Brady, a longtime friend of Donald Trump, had been seen golfing with him and keeping a Make America Great Again cap in his locker in the months leading up to his election. Brady ultimately did not go to the White House on April 19, 2017 stating that he had “family issues” to attend to.
On the day of the actual White House visit, 34 Patriots players met with President Trump and 34 did not. While President Trump maintained a cheerful demeanor during the congratulatory ceremony, he chose not to include Brady’s season highlights in his speech. Trump also suffered a faux pas when he made a reference to wide receiver Danny Amendola only to find that Amendola was absent as he blurted out, “Where’s Danny?!”
Many news sources such as the New York Times, USA Today and SportsCenter also revealed stark differences between photographs of the 2015 Patriots White House visit and the 2017 White House visit. The 2015 White House visit picture with President Obama shows far more players in attendance but the New England Patriots’ official Twitter account said that the picture comparisons were “out of context.” The Patriots’ Twitter account cited that many of team doctors, equipment managers and assistant coaches were standing with President Obama in those 2015 pictures whereas in 2017 they were seated with the audience.
No matter how you look at it, it is clear that Trump’s actions are inciting boycotts and protests of all kind. To see one half of a team of national champions opt out of a meeting with a president they oppose and the other half participate in such a politically-charged event highlights the nation’s current divide. While not everyone may agree with the reasons that players such as Bennett, McCourty and Long refused to meet with President Trump, it is refreshing and inspiring to see these football champions stay true to their personal/political beliefs on and off the field.