The New England Patriots stunning comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 earned them the Lombardi Trophy and the customary trip to the White House as Super Bowl Champions. The major difference between this year and years past is the man in office. Because of President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric, several players have decided to opt out of the trip.
In the weeks leading up to the big game, outspoken tight end Martellus Bennett told reporters that he wouldn’t go to the White House, should the Patriots emerge victorious. His simple explanation was that he doesn’t support “the guy that’s in the house.”
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower also won’t be going with the team to the White House, although he declined to make Trump his reason for avoiding the trip. He just has already been to the White House twice, when he was a college player on two Alabama Crimson Tide teams that won the BCS national championship. Both times he went with the team to visit President Barack Obama. Hightower also decided to skip the Patriots victory parade, as he said he was sick of the cold. He previously skipped the Patriots trip to the White House after they won the 2014 Super Bowl.
Running back LaGarrette Blount announced that he wouldn’t be going to the White House with the team, as he said he just doesn’t feel welcome there.
Free safety Devin McCourty gave one of the more thorough explanations as to why he wouldn’t visit the White House. In an interview with Time magazine, McCourty explained that he doesn’t feel accepted there. He went on to say that because the president has “so many strong opinions and prejudices,” he believes that some people will feel accepted there and others will not.
One interesting exchange occurred between Chuck Modiano of the New York Daily News and Patriots defensive end Chris Long. Long had previously shown support for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest of racial inequality in the United States, with Long saying that as a white man, his experience in the country may not be the same as that of others. Based on this, Modiano wrote a lengthy open letter to Long telling him to “Stand up to Trump with your Patriots teammates.” In the letter, Modiano picked several key points from what Long said in discussing his support of Kaepernick. Finally, he went over why it’s so important for Long to support his teammates by sitting out of the visit to the White House.
Long kept his reply short, sending a tweet starting with “Oh Chuck.” He then went on to explain that he had already planned on skipping the trip, he just hadn’t been asked about it by a member of the media yet. He also mentioned that there was no need for an open letter explaining his own words back to him, and that he’s not joining anyone as he made this call on his own.
Other Patriots have said that they’re undecided regarding whether or not they’ll go to the White House this year. Robert Kraft, the owner of the team, has previously stated that Trump is a friend of his, so he’s likely to go. Coach Bill Belichick wrote Trump a supportive letter before the 2016 Presidential election. Quarterback Tom Brady has been supportive of Trump and even had a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker during the season, although his wife, Gisele Bundchen, doesn’t share his viewpoint.
One thing is certain – there will be quite a few notable absences at the White House this year.