File this in the Department of Everything Must Be Politicized. The owner of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots made an appearance on NBC’s Today set, obviously delighted to celebrate his team’s win a week ago. Matt Lauer tried to get Robert Kraft on record about his perspective on getting the Lombardi Trophy from his nemesis Roger Goodell, but Kraft demurred in favor of graciousness.
Kraft got more specific when Lauer then asked about his friendship with Donald Trump and the half-dozen players who have publicly refused to attend the traditional White House visit. “Has your relationship with Donald Trump,” Lauer wondered, “strained your relationship with some of your players?”
This is no different than any other year, Kraft insisted, except that the media seems a lot more interested in the subject (via The Hill):
“Every time we’ve had the privilege of going to the White House, a dozen of our players don’t go,” Kraft said on TODAY Monday. “This is the first time it’s gotten any media attention.”
“Some of the players have the privilege of going in college because they’re on national championship teams, (and) others have family commitments,” he added. …
“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.”
This story has dragged out over the past week, ever since one of the players announced immediately after the game that he wouldn’t come to the White House because of Trump. There have been a number of athletes who have refused to make the traditional championship visit to the White House over the last thirty years or so; some refusals have been political while others have not. As Kraft notes, many of these have gone unremarked and uncounted.
The Week’s Jon Terbush put together a list of 18 refusals covered by the media by August 2013 that was probably already out of date before last week. The most prominently covered protest came from NFL center Matt Birk in 2013 as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, who refused to meet with Barack Obama because of the president’s support of abortion. Former Packer Mark Chmura refused to meet with Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
My favorite explanation comes from Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker James Harrison, who skipped out on both Obama and George W. Bush for what seems to be the most unique reason:
Harrison twice declined White House invites after winning the Super Bowl, spurning both Obama and former President George W. Bush — not because of their politics, but because he felt the whole idea of inviting championship teams was hollow.
“This is how I feel — if you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don’t win the Super Bowl,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, he [Obama] would’ve invited Arizona if they had won.”
Well … yeah. That’s the purpose of a championship celebration, after all. However, Harrison is probably on to something here, which is that the White House celebrations seem a little strange, when one considers them. Cities hold parades for their championship teams because the teams represent those cities. The White House visit seems more oriented toward celebrating the president than the team, and lends itself to The Politicization Of All Things.
Besides, a lot of other people do want to visit the White House, but they can’t get in:
Want to get a peek inside the Trump White House? Keep checking Twitter and Instagram, because the more traditional method — a formal White House tour — isn’t an option. The White House Visitors Office typically halts tours during presidential transitions, as the new president brings in staff to run the operation, but the three-weeks-and-counting lull under the new administration is unusually long.
That’s not lost on members of Congress, who handle constituent requests for tours. On Sunday, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) cheekily tweeted at “whoever monitors twitter at WH for businessman president Trump” asking when the tours would resume. Making the request more urgent than your typical senatorial inquiry, he added, “Mrs G wants to know.”
Grassley and his wife aren’t the only ones wondering.
At least two dozen lawmakers have signed a letter circulating on Capitol Hill urging the swift reopening of the office that handles tours. “This time-honored tradition of allowing visitors into the White House was started by Thomas Jefferson in 1805, and previous administrations have been quick to reopen the White House doors to the public, even doing so the day after the Inauguration,” the letter reads. “Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama all appointed a White House Visitors Office Director before being sworn in, and had reopened the White House to the public at this point.”
Perhaps they should direct those inquiries to Senate Democrats, who have been bottling up the transition for the past several weeks.