It’s a tradition in American sports for championship-winning teams to go to the White House for a visit with the US president. But when the Super Bowl 51 champion New England Patriots visit Donald Trump at his new residence, at least six star players won’t be attending.
“I won’t be going to the White House,” Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount told NFL Network host Rich Eisen. “I just don’t feel welcome in that house. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Blount joins five other Patriots players—Martellus Bennett, Devin McCourty, Alan Branch, Dont’a Hightower, and Chris Long—who have said they’re declining the invitation to join the Patriots at the White House. McCourty’s reasoning was similar to Blount’s: “I don’t feel accepted in the White House,” he told Time. “With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t.”
Bennett, who’s long tried to change the perception of black athletes, was the first player to indicate he might not attend. A week before the Super Bowl, he said he “most likely” wouldn’t accompany the team to the White House if they won the game. “I don’t support the guy that’s in the house,” he said. After the Super Bowl, he confirmed his decision to skip out on the tradition.
Only Blount, McCourty, and Bennett specifically cited Trump as the reason for their refusal to attend. Five of the six players are black. Chris Long, who spoke out in support of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s right to kneel in protest during the national anthem, is white.
It’s a display of political courage, given that their message is at odds with that of their star quarterback, head coach, and team owner.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady once displayed a “Make America Great Again” Trump hat in his locker. Head coach Bill Belichick, a friend of Trump’s for “many years,” wrote the then-Republican candidate for president a glowing letter. Patriots owner Robert Kraft also is friends with Trump.
The Patriots players declining to visit the White House didn’t ask for the publicity about their decision—they only revealed their refusal to join the visit when asked about it by the media.
And, for those criticizing the players’ decision, know this: Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady skipped out on the traditional White House visit after his team won the Super Bowl in 2015, when Barack Obama was in office, citing suspect “family obligations” as the reason why he declined the invitation.