Nation

That Patriots White House photo comparison? It’s complicated.

At first blush, it looked like the inauguration photo comparison all over again.

Two images appearing to compare the number of New England Patriots players and staff at recent White House ceremonies rocketed around the Internet Wednesday night, appearing to show a much larger turnout for the event hosted by President Barack Obama in 2015 than President Donald Trump in 2017.

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It was picked up and reported on by many news organizations, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and CNN. A Times tweet of the photos had nearly 35,000 retweets and 48,000 “likes” as of Wednesday night.

But the devil is in the details.

Patriots spokesman Stacey James pointed out shortly after the stories were published that the two photos were not an equal comparison, noting that the 2015 photo included administrative staff, while the 2017 photo didn’t.

And there was a valid reason for that, James said.

In 2015, the whole Patriots entourage met with the president in a room pictured above the lawn stairs, and then proceeded to file down the stairs for the photo to be taken, James said.

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“Two years ago, the process was the players and coaches went down, and then the football staff filled in on the stairs,” James said.

But this year, all the football and administrative staff were seated on the South Lawn: “That’s just what the White House chose to do,” he said.

One reason for the smaller group on the risers was likely because the Trump administration wanted to take the players on a tour of the living quarters, but wanted to take a smaller group — just the players and core coaching staff — instead of the whole entourage.

In 2015, as soon as the event was over, “we left — that was it,” James said. “This time, there was a tour given to a smaller group.”

James said a photo of everyone at the White House associated with the Patriots was taken at around noon Wednesday during a rehearsal for the event. That image was forwarded to the Globe by the Patriots organization:

Photo courtesy of the Patriots organization

James also said that trying to compare the attendance of 2017 to 2015 was “wrong.”

“When you win two [Super Bowls] in three years, fewer people go than one in 10 years,” he said, noting that player turnout for the White House ceremonies between 2002 and 2005 decreased steadily.

“It’s just the way it goes,” James said. “It’s a long day. It’s a cool thing you do once — maybe you do it twice — but it’s just not necessarily something you choose to do every time. We had people today who were attending funerals, who were sick — it wasn’t political; it’s just life.”

This year, several Patriots players said they would not be attending, some specifically citing Trump’s behavior and policies as the reason why.

Tom Brady was notably absent from the event, saying earlier in the day he had to attend to “personal family matters.”

Danny Amendola received a shoutout from the president during the event, but he was also absent, and later tweeted at the president in a post that has since been deleted: “Thanks for the shout out @realDonaldTrump! in the GYM! Funeral service for my boy Jaimie Carrillo tonight! RIP-JC.”

The Patriots photo comparison also comes after widely circulated photos appeared to show smaller crowd sizes for Donald Trump’s inauguration than Barack Obama’s in 2009. The photos prompted White House press secretary Sean Spicer to lash out at news organizations and accuse them of false reporting.

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Brian J. White of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story contained a photo showing the crowd sizes of the 2015 and 2017 White House visits. That photo has been removed because not all attendees of the 2017 visit were pictured, according to the Patriots organization.

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