While the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel ban is being gargled by our democracy like mouthwash, some Patriots players in the wake of winning Super Bowl LI have instituted a travel ban of their own. They’re not going to travel to the White House for the customary feting and greeting of the Super Bowl champions by the president.
These empty-calorie ceremonies have traditionally taken place in the White House’s Rose Garden. That’s fitting because the Patriots’ support of Trump has become a thorny issue. The Patriots made history in Super Bowl LI, but some feel they’re on the wrong side of it with their coziness with Trump.
The Patriots are Trump’s America’s Team. The association the team has with the caustic candidate-turned-imperious president is now fodder for the Patriots’ haters like Spygate and Deflategate were before it.
Sometimes good friends go down a path that you simply can’t follow. That’s where Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick, and quarterback Tom Brady find themselves. Instead, it feels like the Trump Presidency in Context website will be linked off Patriots.com any day now, and Kraft will be photographed on Air Force One in his trademark Air Force 1 sneakers.
Whether the Patriots realize it or acknowledge it, the team’s chumminess with Trump is interpreted as a tacit endorsement of his policies and chilling silence regarding some of the disturbing white nationalist philosophies espoused by a faction of his supporters — and advisers. The closest our Foxborough & Friends cast has come to disavowing Trump was Brady telling “Kirk & Callahan” on WEEI-AM that “if you know someone it doesn’t mean you agree with everything they say or they do.”
The steadfast refusal to denounce any of Trump’s policy stances by Kraft and Co., has left a portion of their own fan base feeling disheartened. It has cemented their image among those who view them as the NFL’s answer to the Death Star. It has given a whole new meaning to Defend the Wall, a popular phrase among Patriots true believers in regard to Deflategate.
Kraft, who dined with Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s South Florida seat of power, Mar-a-Lago, on Friday night, got caught up in the jet wash of the Trump presidency on Monday on “The Today Show” on NBC.
Matt Lauer asked Kraft if his relationship with Trump had strained his relationships with any of his players and then pointed out that some Patriots said they wouldn’t go to the White House.
Martellus Bennett, Devin McCourty, LeGarrette Blount, and Chris Long have announced they don’t plan to go, citing or alluding to political reasons. Super Bowl hero James White told SiriusXM NFL Radio that he is going to make a decision at a later date. Alan Branch said he wants to spend offseason time with his family. Branch didn’t attend “voluntary” organized team activity practices last season for the same reason. Dont’a Hightower doesn’t plan to attend. He visited in college at the University of Alabama and didn’t go in 2015 when the Patriots visited the Barack Obama White House.
“I’m happy to say this is our fifth Super Bowl in the last 16 years, and every time we’ve had the privilege of going to the White House a dozen of our players don’t go. This is the first time it has gotten any media attention,” Kraft told “Today.” “Some of the players have the privilege of going in college because they’re on national championship teams. Others have family commitments. But this is America. We’re all free to do whatever is best for us, and we’re just privileged to be in a position to be going.”
A deft answer, Kellyanne Conway should take notes.
Responding to a request, Patriots vice president of media relations Stacey James clarified Kraft’s comments.
“He is not saying that’s an exact number for each of the four times. He is saying this is the first time anyone has made a big deal of it in advance,” said James. “We’ve never had perfect attendance, never. It’s a choice that everyone gets to make. It’s not mandatory.”
Good. Still, it strains credulity to pretend that players declining to go to the Trump White House constitutes business as usual and not political protest. Paradoxically, the same goes for implying that skipping a meeting with the president is only getting media attention because it’s Trump.
It was just two years ago that Brady made headlines for skipping out on a visit with President Obama due to a family commitment. Mike Reiss reported that Brady was at Gillette Stadium during a portion of the time the team visited Obama. Former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, a lefty specialist, declined to attend the ceremony for the 2007 World Champion Red Sox when George W. Bush was president and sat out the team photo with Bush for the 2004 team.
Larry Bird, Cedric Maxwell, and Robert Parish all took a pass on visiting Ronald Reagan after the Celtics won the 1984 NBA title.
Perhaps, the most infamous Boston sports snub of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was Bruins goalie Tim Thomas refusing to go to see Obama when the 2011 Stanley Cup champions were honored. Thomas posted a Facebook polemic about overreach from the federal government.
“The comments by Robert are not to say this is the first time this has happened,” said James. “Obviously, we were aware of Tim Thomas. We’ve done this four previous times, though, and no one has ever talked about it in advance for us.”
It’s not mandatory for anyone with the Patriots to separate themselves publicly or politically from Trump. (Kraft was the NFL owner who contributed the most ($57,900) to Obama’s campaign in 2012, according to the Big Lead.)
But elections and relationships have consequences.
The Patriots are the most Trump-branded football team this side of the New Jersey Generals, the team Trump used to own in the defunct USFL. Bill Belichick wrote Trump a letter of support he read at a New Hampshire rally. Trump bragged to New Hampshire voters that Brady voted for him. Kraft attended Trump’s inauguration and got name-checked by him at a pre-inauguration dinner for donors.
The Patriots don’t have to stiff-arm the president, but they would be wise to at least start distancing themselves from some of his polarizing policies.