By Matthew Ritchie, Special to the AFRO
The Philadelphia Eagles were the latest team to not visit the White House to celebrate their championship victory. After less than 5 Eagles players and staff committed to visit the President’s home for the celebration, Donald Trump subsequently disinvited the team from coming to the White House. Many of the players who chose not to accept the original invite starkly disagree with Trump on his comments on athletes taking a knee during the anthem, race and his policies.
This was the second time that a team refused to visit Washington D.C. under the current President. In 2017, the Golden State Warriors announced that they would not be visiting the White House because of the man running the country, at which point Trump revoked the invitation. Throughout its entire existence, the White House visit has been a highly politicized event that players often don’t attend, creating multiple controversies.
Former Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk declined to attend the championship presentation during the Obama administration because he was pro-life. When President Obama invited the 1972 Super Bowl Champions Miami Dolphins to the White House, three members of the team refused to visit based on the President’s policies. When they were on the New England Patriots, Martellus Bennett, Chris Long, and LeGarrette Blount declined the invitation because of President Trump and his actions (Tom Brady also missed the event due to “family reasons”).
Many conservative pundits have criticized the Eagles, one of the most socially conscious professional sports teams, for not taking the opportunity to meet with the President. Their reasoning is that the Eagles could take the time to possibly steal Trump away and make policy recommendations. However, this is a gross misreading of the President. The President is not there to hear the social justice and racial concerns of the players. He is there to receive a customized jersey, rub elbows with athletic superstars and to smile for the camera. It is a pointless event that is just used to increase the popularity and likeability of the President.
The positives that can be gained from the White House visit are few and far between. The best possible outcome from champions gathering at the White House is a nice photo to finally fill that one picture frame in your house. At worst, the players become a pawn in the current political game. The Eagles had nothing to gain from attending the White House. It would have undermined the stance that they and other NFL players had taken on the anthem. Showing themselves at the glorified photo op would have been a detriment to their multiple social causes.
Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins has been a vocal supporter of Colin Kaepernick since he began his social justice campaign, and has been a key member in an NFL player-led coalition to address problems in the Black community. Defensive end Chris Long donated his entire 2017 salary to educational equality charities. Showing up to the White House to stand alongside a President that has referred to them as “sons of b*****s” and has vilified them would be counterproductive to their efforts and undermine their stance.
Attempting to bring activism to the White House visit can even be deadly for one’s career. Back in 1992, when the Chicago Bulls won the NBA title, shooting guard Craig Hodges showed up wearing a dashiki. He brought a letter for President George H.W. Bush, urging him to address the concerns of poor and minority communities across the United States. He was subsequently released from the Chicago Bulls and never played another minute in the NBA. He was blackballed from the league for attempting to bring social justice to the White House.
I used to think that championship teams visiting the White House was a huge honor. I believed that there was no greater achievement in the sports world. However, I now realize that there is no reason for the White House visits to continue. There are no real, legitimate arguments for the ritual to still exist. It only serves as a publicity stunt for the President.
The scandal and political uproar that comes with the event is not worth the trouble. Championship teams would be better served taking the time to do community outreach during their Washington D.C. trip, as the Warriors, Eagles, and WNBA champions Minnesota Lynx have done. No team should waste their time at an even that serves no real social purpose.
Matthew Ritchie is an intern in the Baltimore office of the AFRO American Newspapers. He is a student at Johns Hopkins University pursuing a double major in English and Psychology.