Championship-winning sports teams have been visiting the White House since 1865. These visits first began to celebrate baseball championships, giving the winning team a chance to meet the President and tour the White House. In later years, other sports were added to the tradition. For example, basketball was added in 1963, and American football in 1980. Over the years, other sports (like golf and soccer) and women’s teams have been included in the traditional honorary reception. Not all of the team members attend, however. Several team members choose to decline the invitation for a number of reasons. This article takes a look at 10 of those sports players and their reasons for turning down the chance to meet the US President.
9. Martellus Bennett - Donald Trump
The New England Patriots won the 2017 Super Bowl and were invited to the White House for the traditional visit. The team’s tight end, Martellus Bennett, chose not to participate in the event - the first since Donald Trump took office. While not making a direct statement about his reasons for declining, Bennett has previously said he would not attend an event with the President. A supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, he raised his fist in sign of protest during the game’s national anthem.
8. Devin McCourty - Donald Trump
Devin McCourty is the defensive back for the New England Patriots, who were the Champions of the 2017 NFL Super Bowl. He declined the traditional White House visit due to his political beliefs. He stated that he does not feel accepted at the White House, citing President Trump’s opinions and prejudices as reasons not to attend. In his opinion, several players would feel out of place around the new President. McCourty was seen at the beginning of the game with his fist raised in the air during the national anthem, a sign of political protest that became popular in sports with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
7. Tim Thomas - Barack Obama
Tim Thomas, goalie for the Boston Bruins hockey team, declined to visit the White House as well after his team’s 2011 Stanley Cup win. This came during the Obama administration. According to Thomas, he wanted to exercise his right as a free individual to not make the visit. At the time, he believed that the federal government had grown beyond the scope of the Constitution, threatening the freedom of US citizens. He clarified his decision by claiming it was not political as he held both major parties responsible for the situation.
6. James Harrison - Barack Obama/George W. Bush
James Harrison, outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has turned down the invitation to meet the President after two Super Bowl wins. These wins took place during both the Barack Obama and the George W. Bush administrations. His stance was not a political protest, but rather a belief that the invitation was not a “big deal” and that it was void of actual admiration for the team. In his opinion, neither President was a true fan of the Steelers team. He further explained that an invitation to meet the President should not be based on whether or not the team has won a championship. In his eyes, an invitation should come out of preference for the team, no matter its winning record.
5. Tom Lehman - Bill Clinton
Tom Lehman, a professional golfer, turned down the opportunity to meet President Clinton after winning the 1993 Ryder Cup. He has always been an outspoken Christian, making his religious views well-known to the American public. When asked why he refused the White House invitation, Lehman reportedly called Clinton a “draft dodging baby killer”. He criticized the President for not serving in the Vietnam War and for being a pro-choice President.
4. Tom Brady - Barack Obama
Tom Brady of the New England Patriots chose not to meet President Barack Obama after the 2015 Super Bowl victory. In his case, he claimed to have made prior family plans that interfered with the date of the invitation. However, some reporters posited a different reason, citing comments made by then-White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest about the Deflategate Scandal. Deflategate was a controversy within the National Football League that accused the New England Patriots of underinflating footballs, making them easier to catch and handle. Earnest made fun of Tom Brady during a press conference over Brady’s inability to describe a deflated football. He went even further by saying there was no risk of Brady stealing the Press Secretary’s job in the future.
3. Michael Jordan - George H.W. Bush
Michael Jordan was a no-show after the Chicago Bulls won the 1991 NBA Finals. His failure to visit the White House under President George H. W. Bush was met with some heavy criticism by both the press and the American public. Some individuals claimed that his failure to show up was an insult to the team and that it undermined their accomplishments. Jordan responded to these criticisms by reminding the public that he had already met President Bush when he served as Vice President. He went on to explain that he had a very hectic schedule that forced him to be away from his family for days on end. In Jordan’s opinion, choosing to spend time with his family rather than attending the event should not be considered an insult to the President.
2. Manny Ramirez - George W. Bush
The Boston Red Sox baseball team won the World Series in 2004 and 2007. Both times, the team was invited to the White House to celebrate with President George W. Bush, one of the biggest baseball fans to ever hold the US presidency. Manny Ramirez missed the meet-and-greet each year. In 2004, fellow-teammate Johnny Damon made an excuse for Manny, telling the President that his grandmother was sick. In 2007, President Bush pointed out Manny’s absence, saying that he supposed his grandmother had died a second time. He was joking, however, and told everybody that he didn’t really mean it.
1. Mark Chmura - Bill Clinton
Mark Chmura played for the Green Bay Packers when the team won the Super Bowl in 1997. True to tradition, President Clinton invited the team to the White House for an honorary reception. Chmura, however, did not attend the event. He told the press that he wouldn’t make it due to a previously scheduled golf game. He didn’t speak out against the President until after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. At that time, Chmura claimed to have known all along and that the President was not setting a good moral example for the country’s children.