Sports teams court controversy over visiting Trump in White House

Sports teams court controversy over visiting Trump in White House
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The decades-long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House appears to be in jeopardy as President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's top adviser on Asia to serve as deputy national security adviser United Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Trump doubles down on call to investigate Biden after whistleblower complaint: 'That's the real story' MORE's rhetoric riles his base and alienates some athletes.

Trump has blurred the lines between sports and politics since taking office 17 months ago. He has taken on the NFL over its national anthem protests, criticized NCAA athletes who did not thank him for coming to their aid and attacked NBA superstars on Twitter.

While championship teams have visited the White House dating back at least 50 years, the decision to accept an invitation from Trump has become politically perilous. 

Here's a look at which major teams and athletes have visited Trump's White House to date, including some who have had their invite rescinded and others who have gone uninvited entirely.

NFL: 

  • New England Patriots, 2017 Super Bowl champions

The Patriots visited the White House on April 19, 2017, after they defeated the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl 

Trump has flaunted his relationship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. 

But Brady was among a few dozen players who did not attend the ceremony, citing "family matters."

Some players, such as Martellus Bennett and LeGarrette Blount, indicated they didn’t feel welcome. Others opted out of the event because of injuries or other commitments. 

  • Philadelphia Eagles, 2018 Super Bowl champions

The Eagles were scheduled to visit the White House on Tuesday, but Trump called off the visit when it appeared that roughly only 10 players planned to attend.

The White House blamed the Eagles for the cancellation. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused the team of orchestrating a "political stunt" by choosing to send a small delegation.

While the expected turnout was the cause the White House cited for the cancellation, Trump also highlighted the team's participation in national anthem protests, reigniting a controversy that raged all last season over the practice among some NFL players.

No Eagles players took a knee during the anthem in the 2017 season, though some players raised their fists in protest. 

NBA:

  • Golden State Warriors, 2017 NBA champions 

Trump disinvited the Warriors from the White House after star guard Stephen Curry indicated he would not attend any Trump-hosted ceremony meant to honor the team.

“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” Trump tweeted.

Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James jumped to Curry’s defense. He called Trump a “bum,” adding that “going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

The team visited Washington, D.C., earlier this year and spent the day with children at the African American History Museum.

  • Expected 2018 champions

James said Tuesday that he doesn’t expect the Cavaliers or the Warriors to visit the White House, regardless of which team wins this year’s NBA Finals.

"I know no matter who wins this series, no one wants an invite anyway," he told reporters.

Curry concurred with James’s assessment, according to NBA reporters. 

MLB: 

  • Houston Astros, 2017 World Series champions

The Astros visited the White House on March 12, with nearly the entire team in tow.

Observers noted that two Puerto Rican-born players — Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran — were not in attendance. Their absence was notable after the Trump administration faced criticism for its response to hurricanes that battered the island.

A team spokesman said Correa, Beltran and others who did not attend missed the ceremony because of family obligations.

NHL:

  • Pittsburgh Penguins, 2017 Stanley Cup champions

The Penguins made their trip to the White House on Oct. 10, 2017. Team officials attempted to separate the visit from politics.

"Nobody's taking a stand. We are simply honoring our championship and the accomplishments of this group of players," head coach Mike Sullivan said during the visit

The team accepted an invitation to the White House days after  Trump encouraged fans to boycott the NFL over player protests during the national anthem.

The team said in a statement it would honor the tradition of visiting the White House, but added that it respected the rights of other individuals to express disagreement with the president's policies. 

NCAA:

  • Clemson Tigers, 2017 NCAA football champions

The Clemson University football team visited the White House on June 17, 2017. About 180 team members and staff attended the event, which took place without controversy.

  • Alabama Crimson Tide, 2018 NCAA football champions

The University of Alabama football team visited the White House on April 10 following its fifth national championship in nine years. 

Offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher told AL.com that head coach Nick Saban addressed any looming controversy about the visit in a team meeting.

"Coach Saban addressed it and just said, 'Hey, we're doing this regardless of your political thoughts. We're going, just to celebrate this team. It's an honor,'" Pierschbacher said.

The president attended the first half of this year’s national title game but left when Alabama was trailing the University Georgia, 13-0.

  • North Carolina Tar Heels, 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament champions

The University of North Carolina's men’s basketball team said it would not make a trip to the White House because of a scheduling conflict.

  • South Carolina Gamecocks, 2017 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament champions 

The University of South Carolina's women's basketball team won the national championship in April 2017 but did not hear from the White House until November, when they were invited to take part in a broader ceremony honoring NCAA champions.

The team declined to attend, with head coach Dawn Staley saying the group would instead focus on the upcoming season.

Staley was critical of the delayed invitation, saying in September 2017 she felt it "speaks volumes" that other teams had been invited before hers.

WNBA:

  • Minnesota Lynx, 2017 WNBA champions

The Lynx, who won the league title nearly eight months ago, said they have not been invited to the White House to be honored. 

The team previously visited the White House after winning championships in 2011, 2013 and 2015. 

Head coach Cheryl Reeve told The Star-Tribune in early May that it was “disappointing” not to receive an invite, but added that she was “not losing sleep” over the matter. 

She suggested the White House was less inclined to honor women’s sports.

"That’s the unfortunate pattern," she said. "We don’t want to believe that’s the case, but it’s hard not to think that. When the Astros have won a championship and been there and we’ve gotten no communication, it’s certainly disappointing.’’

NASCAR:

NASCAR Monster Energy Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. visited the White House on May 21. 

Trump took the opportunity to praise the sport’s fans for their patriotism, while taking a thinly veiled shot at the NFL. 

“At every NASCAR race, you will see thousands of patriotic Americans, from the grandstands to the pit stalls, proudly waving our flag, and roaring with joy at the words ‘start your engines,’" Trump continued. 

“And I will tell you one thing I know about NASCAR: They do indeed, Brian, stand for the playing of the national anthem. Right? They do indeed,” Trump said.