As far as I’m concerned, the refusal of five Patriots to celebrate their Super Bowl victory at the White House exemplifies the true spirit of patriotism.
Even before the Super Bowl was contested — and before the spine-tingling, glorious finale — Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett had strongly indicated that if the team won he probably would not be attending any celebrations at Donald Trump’s White House. He made it official shortly after the game ended Sunday night.
Now four of his teammates — safety Devin McCourty, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, defensive lineman Chris Long, and running back LeGarrette Blount — have all said they won’t be going to the White House, either.
All five played major roles in the team’s successful championship run. But their commitment to the team doesn’t include any obligation to take part in an offseason field trip to Washington that’s primarily a photo opportunity for a president they don’t support.
The dissenting Patriots are acting on some of America’s most deeply held values. They are fully entitled to express, and be true to, their beliefs.
And for what it’s worth, their views about Trump are shared by millions.
McCourty has made it clear that he isn’t going because of his feelings about the current occupant. Hightower has simply said that he’s “been there, done that,” having visited the White House as a member of a national champion college team at the University of Alabama.
Long tweeted on Thursday that he would be skipping the trip. His tweet was in response to a New York Daily News column calling on Long to decline the visit. Daily News columnist Chuck Modiano wrote an open letter to Long, noting his previous political statements. Long eloquently supported the right of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to kneel during the national anthem, even as he said he would do no such thing.
“Oh Chuck. Planned on skipping, hadn’t been asked. Don’t need an open letter explaining my own words to me. Not *joining* anyone. My call,” Long tweeted in response.
These Patriots aren’t the first athletes to skip the now-traditional White House ceremony. But many of those who have skipped such trips — including their illustrious teammate, quarterback Tom Brady, two years ago, when Obama was president — have cited other obligations in declining to attend.
Not so for Bennett and McCourty. Bennett, in particular, began expressing his reluctance almost as soon as the team arrived in Houston. “I don’t support the guy that’s in the house,” he said during a media appearance early last week.
Likewise, McCourty cited Trump in declaring that he wouldn’t go.
“Basic reason for me is I don’t feel accepted in the White House,” he told Time magazine. “With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices, I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t.”
Their refusal to go to the White House has drawn extra attention, given that Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick, and Brady have all made no secret of their fondness for Trump.
In an organization that prizes discipline, stepping out of line this way is a very un-Patriots thing to do.
Part of me wonders if the Trump-Patriots connection is overblown. I don’t assume that everyone who’s ever played golf with Trump supports a Muslim ban, or thinks what America really needs is a wall on the Mexican border. That said, Trump’s friends in Foxborough certainly haven’t gone out of their way to distance themselves from his toxic positions.
Clearly, the five players have decided that they aren’t concerned about the prospect of offending the powers that be in the organization. By the standards of pro sports, that’s a bold stand.
I say good for the dissenting players for refusing to play coy about why they won’t go. It would have been easy to duck controversy. Instead, they chose to exercise their rights. Nothing more American than that.