Inviting national sports champions to the White House is a non-partisan tradition that dates back to at least the 1960s. But ever since President Donald Trump moved into the home on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue last year, the generally lauded Washington invite is getting some of the nation’s top athletes tangled up in a web of presidential politics.
The Boston Red Sox, fresh off their historic World Series win, are the latest team to be faced with the Trump dilemma.
The team’s manager Alex Cora said that the Sox haven’t decided whether they will visit the White House if they’re invited by Trump, adding that he wants to use the team’s platform in the right way, according to the Associated Press.
Cora, who is from Puerto Rico, traveled to the island in January to provide assistance from the destruction left by Hurricane Maria, and previously expressed frustration with the president’s comments on Puerto Rico.
“It’s a little bit, kind of like frustrating that the topic keeps coming and coming and coming. What’s the point? Honestly, you know?” Cora said in September. “And I respect him. He’s the president of the United States, but I don’t agree with a lot of what he says about us.”
Although several athletes have skipped the visit with past administrations — often citing scheduling conflicts — boycotts in the Trump era have been increasingly public, and several athletes have cited their opposition to Trump as their reason for skipping.
Here are a few notable examples:
Brett Connolly became the second Washington Capitals player to announce that he intends to skip his team’s visit to the White House this year — where the 2018 Stanley Cup champions are set to be honored by Trump.
“For me, I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do.” Connolly said in August, according to Sports Illustrated. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I think there’ll be a few guys not going, too. Like I said, it has nothing to do with politics, it’s about what’s right and wrong, and we’ll leave it at that.”
Trump congratulated the team on their win in June, tweeting, “Alex Ovechkin, the team captain, was spectacular — a true Superstar! D.C. is popping, in many ways. What a time!”
Congratulations to the Washington Capitals on their GREAT play and winning the Stanley Cup Championship. Alex Ovechkin, the team captain, was spectacular – a true Superstar! D.C. is popping, in many ways. What a time!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 8, 2018
Although the majority of the Capitals said that they would visit the White House this year, Devante Smith-Pelly, one of two black players on the team, said during the playoffs in June that he would not attend, and specifically cited his opposition to Trump.
“The things that he spews are straight-up racist and sexist,” the Canadian player said of the president. “Some of the things he’s said are pretty gross. I’m not too into politics, so I don’t know all his other views, but his rhetoric I definitely don’t agree with.”
Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said in June that visiting the White House is “a very sensitive issue” for his team.
“If you don’t have the same belief as somebody else then automatically they think you’re wrong and they take it personally, which politics isn’t supposed to be that way,” he added. “You’re allowed to have disagreement, but my opinion is that you’re supposed to respect the other person’s decision.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who won the Stanley Cup in June 2017, visited the White House in October, but amid some opposition from fans.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan explained that, “Nobody’s choosing a side … We are simply honoring our championship and the accomplishments of this group of players.”
The Golden State Warriors, who won the NBA championship both years that Trump has been in office, largely planned to boycott the visit in 2017, and were promptly disinvited by Trump.
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” Trump tweeted after Warriors star player Steph Curry told reporters that he would not attend.
“U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!” NBA star LeBron James, one of Trump’s most vocal critics in sports, tweeted at the time.
U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017
This year, ahead of the championship game between the Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Trump told reporters that neither team would be getting a White House invitation.
“We’re not going to invite either team … If they don’t want to be here, I don’t want them,” Trump said.
James, who was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ star player before joining the Los Angeles Lakers this season, accused Trump of trying to “divide” Americans and said ahead of the big game in June that if his team won, he would also skip the visit.
Months after winning a fourth WNBA championship, the Minnesota Lynx had still not received an invitation to celebrate their win at the White House.
Cheryl Reeve, the team’s coach and general manager, said in September that “it’s hard not to think” that sexism played a role in the Lynx not getting an invite.
“It’s hard not to think that gender is playing a role here because of the consistency with which men’s teams are being invited and celebrated,” she told The Washington Post. “I think it reflects the priorities of this particular administration.”
“Presidents have recognized WNBA Champs dating back to Houston Comets,” Reeve tweeted, noting that the Trump White House has hosted male teams ranging from NFL championsto college football champions like the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson University Tigers.
Trump’s relationship with the National Football League has been especially contentious after the president ignited a feud in September 2017 with players who take a knee during the National Anthem to protest racism and repeatedly slammed league owners for allowing the protests to take place.
More than a year later, Trump has continued to bring up the topic in interviews, public appearances and on social media, injecting himself into a nationwide debate on patriotism and dissent in America.
This year, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl for the first time in the franchise’s history, and while the team was initially invited to the White House, Trump announced in June that the visit had been canceled.
The Philadelphia Eagles Football Team was invited to the White House. Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event. Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2018
“The Philadelphia Eagles Football Team was invited to the White House. Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event. Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!” Trump tweeted.
Several players, including safety Malcolm Jenkins and wide receiver Torrey Smith, who famously raised their fists to protest racism during the national anthem, had already indicated that they would not attend.
Then, not even a few hours after Trump’s favorite team — the New England Patriots — won the Super Bowl in 2017, several players had already announced that they would boycott a visit to the White House.
This thrusted the Patriots’ star quarterback Tom Brady, who has been personal friends with Trump for years, into the political spotlight.
Brady, who had generally been evasive when asked about his relationship with the president, found himself at the center of relentless media speculation over his plans to attend, which ended with a surprise no-show from the quarterback.
Citing “family matters,” Brady thanked Trump for hosting the team at the White House in a statement, saying, “In light of some recent developments, I am unable to attend today’s ceremony, as I am attending to some personal family matters. Hopefully, if we accomplish the goal of winning a championship in the future years, we will back on the South Lawn again soon.”