Trump Calls Penguins ‘True Champions and Incredible Patriots’

President welcomes Pittsburgh's hockey team to White House in break from rising politicization of sports

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 11 Oct 2017 at 10:02 AM

President Donald Trump praised the Pittsburgh Penguins as “true champions and incredible patriots,” as national sports organizations and players continue to deal with increasing levels of politicization, when he welcomed the team to the White House Tuesday.

The president expressed his delight that he was able to host the Penguins and honor the hockey team for its Stanley Cup championship victory after the team won the Cup back-to-back in both 2016 and 2017. Noting that the team pledged two donations of $25,000 each toward Puerto Rico’s relief efforts following Hurricane Maria’s devastation, and toward the victims and first responders of the Las Vegas shooting on October 1, Trump said the team embodied the American spirit in a tangible way.

"Not only are the Penguins the first team in the National Hockey League literally in nearly 20 years to be repeat champions, [but] you also captured the cup in three out of the last nine seasons. That's pretty amazing, because I know the competition," Trump said. "Just as much as your five Stanley Cup wins, your generosity has shown the true character of this incredible organization. You are true, true champions and incredible patriots."

"So I want to thank you for coming today. But for us, this is really a truly great group of world champions. That's what they are — they're world champions," Trump added.

The president struck a tone of national unity when he praised the Penguins for their grit, teamwork and spirit. In times marred by natural disasters and bitterly partisan politics, Trump asked the country to look to the Penguins for some inspiration.

"Over the last couple of months the New England Patriots, the Chicago Cubs, and the NCAA Champion Clemson Tigers — football — have all visited the White House to celebrate their great victories. It's been an honor to have them all here," Trump said.

Pittsburgh Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby told the Associated Press Monday that his team's visit to the White House involved "absolutely no politics."

"From my side of things, there's absolutely no politics involved," Crosby said. "Hopefully it stays that way. It's a visit we've done in the past. It's been a good experience. It's not about politics, that's for sure."

But other sports stars have made a point of politicizing visits to the Trump White House, and the president rescinded an invitation to Golden State Warriors basketball player Stephen Curry when he told reporters that he didn't want to accept Trump's invitation to the White House along with his team in September.

In addition, Trump brought attention to football players who choose to kneel during the national anthem before their games, in protest against racial injustice, at a rally in September. After more players protested in defiance of Trump, the National Football League's viewership ratings plummeted as fans expressed their displeasure over what many viewed as an act of unpatriotic disrespect against the flag and the anthem.

"I just again want to congratulate this incredible franchise on its so many victories," Trump told the Penguins. "You embody the values of dedication, discipline, and hard work. To every young American watching today, we encourage you to always strive to be your best, to do your best, and to give your all."

But even before launching into praise for the Penguins for coming to the White House, the president expressed his support for all Americans still suffering from the series of hurricanes that swept through the South, the survivors and grieving family members of the Las Vegas victims, and the Californians enduring the ravages of wildfire.

"Before we get started, I want to say a few words to the people of California — great state — especially for those in Napa. Napa has been hit so hard, and Sonoma, as they deal with the tragic loss of life and property to devastating wildfires," Trump said. "I spoke with Governor [Jerry] Brown [D] last night to let him know that the federal government will stand with the people of California. And we will be there for you in this time of terrible tragedy and need."

"We also continue to pray for those grieving and wounded after the mass shooting attack in Las Vegas. And we stand in solidarity with those suffering in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria," the president added.

Trump also praised Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle for his leadership as he jokingly asked Burkle to exhibit his "negotiating" skills and lend him a hand in dealing with a stubborn Congress.

"First of all, [Burkle's] a friend of mine for a long time. He's a great, great negotiator," Trump said. "Ron, how about negotiating some of our horrible trade deals that they've made? Here's what I want — I want to get him. Oh, I would love to get him, to have Ron Burkle."

"But I really mean that — if you want to get involved in negotiating NAFTA, I like it," Trump said of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he is currently reviewing.

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