New England Patriots: A White House boycott
“The champagne had not even dried in the Patriots locker room” when New England tight end Martellus Bennett threw cold water on his team’s Super Bowl party, said Dave Zirin in The Nation.com. That night, Bennett announced “there was no way” he would attend the NFL team’s celebratory photo-op at the Trump White House. Five of Bennett’s teammates have since joined his boycott. “I don’t feel welcome in that house. I’ll leave it at that,” said running back LeGarrette Blount. The White House boycott is even more striking given that the Patriots are considered “Trump’s team”: The president is friends with quarterback Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft. But who can blame the boycotters? Why would they want to legitimize a president who routinely has portrayed black America as ridden with crime and poverty and appointed Steve Bannon, “a white supremacist, as his ‘strategic adviser’”?
No one’s asking the Patriots to endorse the president or his policies, said Mitch Albom in the Detroit Free Press. Indeed, given that most presidential elections run close to 50-50, half the athletes who have visited the White House over the years probably didn’t like the person occupying it. But those other athletes managed to respect a unifying tradition, rather than turn it into a divisive political statement. The boycotters should be ashamed of themselves, said Joe Fitzgerald in the Boston Herald. Their Super Bowl victory created a feeling of “togetherness” among their rabid fans—“pro-life zealots and gay couples” who sit side by side every week, “hooting and hollering as one, political differences notwithstanding.” Why spoil that?
“The Patriots are hardly the first athletes to boycott a D.C. victory lap,” said Michele Gorman in Newsweek.com. Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas and Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk both shunned Obama White House ceremonies for political reasons—as did the Patriots’ own Tom Brady. Brady claimed he had a “prior family commitment,” only to spend the day shopping at the Apple Store. Don’t blame the boycotting Patriots for politicizing these ceremonies, said Roy S. Johnson in AL.com. Blame Trump for making politics so divisive that some athletes can’t stomach the thought of shaking his hand. Seeing one’s team at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue used to be innocent fun; now that it’s no longer so, maybe “it’s time to give this particular ritual a rest.”