Going to the White House after winning a major sports championship was once an honor.
It is a tradition that started with John F. Kennedy’s administration and has continued through the decades. In recent times, however, professional athletes have used what is supposed to be a unifying moment for the country and turned it into a platform to make divisive political statements.
Early in President Donald Trump’s administration, a handful of New England Patriots skipped the White House visit after winning the Super Bowl last year; then Trump disinvited the Golden State Warriors from a potential visit last year after many players and coaches spoke ill of him and said they did not want to attend.
The Philadelphia Eagles are now the latest team to join the anti-Trump bandwagon. Almost immediately after they won the Super Bowl on Sunday, a handful of players said they would not visit the White House for a photo op with President Trump, assuming they are invited.
Most NFL fans were probably expecting defensive end Chris Long and running back LeGarrette Blount to pass on the visit, if indeed the event ends up happening. They were among the group of New England Patriots players who did not attend last year; each reaffirmed his stance this time around.
When asked about a potential White House visit last week on Barstool Sports’ “Pardon My Take” podcast, Long responded, “No, I’m not going to the White House. Are you kidding me?”
Blount told CNN, “I just don’t feel welcome into that house. I’m going to leave it at that.”
They are not the only two to make this announcement either. Wide receiver Torrey Smith and safety Malcolm Jenkins joined the list of potential White House skippers.
“We read the news just like everyone else,” Smith told NJ Advance Media last week. “You see Donald Trump tweet something … We have those conversations in the locker room, just like everyone else does in the workplace. We’re very informed about what goes on, and we’re trying to continue to educate ourselves.”
“Nah, I personally do not anticipate attending,” Jenkins told CNN. “My message has been clear all year … I want to see changes in our criminal justice system. I want to see us push for economical and educational advancement in communities of color and low-income communities.”
This is a poor way for these Eagles players to get their messages across. Even if they do not respect President Trump himself, a White House visit is more about respecting the presidency and the country. A refusal to attend also sends the message that these players are not willing to have a conversation with people with whom they disagree. They have the opportunity to meet the president of the United States. That might be the only opportunity they have to give the most powerful man in the world any constructive criticism in a calm and respectful manner.
By simply avoiding the opportunity, they put themselves in the same category as Colin Kaepernick when he didn’t vote in the presidential election in 2016. It comes off more as boosting one’s ego than it does actually caring about making the country a better place.
If players on the team have a problem with President Trump, hiding from him is not their best recourse — especially since they play in a state he flipped red in 2016.
While no players on the Eagles knelt for the national anthem during Sunday’s Super Bowl, a few of the players raised their fists throughout the season — paying homage to the Black Panther Party. This included Smith, Jenkins and defensive back Rodney McLeod.
If players on the team have a problem with President Trump, hiding from him is not their best recourse — especially since they play in a state he flipped red in 2016. The people paying the players’ salaries are some of the same people who voted Trump into office.
Sure, these Eagles players might be coming off a Super Bowl win, and their decisions are personal — but it would not be shocking if the public perception of these specific members of the Eagles team went downhill.
Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, ESPN, and other outlets.