The 2016 New England Patriots made history when they came back from a 28-3 deficit in Super Bowl LI. That same team can do it again Wednesday when it will be honored at the White House.
The Patriots are the first championship team to be honored at the White House under President Donald Trump’s administration. Six players already have said they won’t attend the ceremony: safety Devin McCourty, tight end Martellus Bennett, running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive end Chris Long, defensive tackle Alan Branch and linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
McCourty, Bennett, Blount, Long and Branch all have said they won’t go for political and personal reasons. McCourty, Long and Branch said they wouldn’t feel comfortable explaining the decision to participate in a photo op with Trump to their children. Hightower’s reasoning was simple: “Been there, done that.”
Trump is the most subversive president to take office since the White House ceremonies began for NFL teams in 1980. The Patriots can set a precedent for future championship MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL and college teams when the time comes for their White House visits by making a statement Wednesday.
Brady reportedly will attend. It was foolish to imagine the Patriots would skip the ceremony en masse. But if more than half the team skips? If a paltry showing of just 15 or 20 players attend? Then that’s a suddenly embarrassing situation for the president and one that might alter the custom of White House ceremonies for pro sports teams altogether.
Would the 2016 Patriots be mentioned in the same sentence as Tommie Smith, John Carlos or even Colin Kaepernick? Probably not. But they would set the tone for the next four years and be remembered as a group that wasn’t afraid to stand for its right to protest. They’ll also probably be called triggered snowflakes by anonymous Twitter eggs and/or the President of the United States. I probably will be called that too, just for writing this.
A mass protest also would change the narrative behind the 2016 Patriots, who became a Trump team a year earlier when Brady made the potentially regrettable decision to speak at his locker following the Deflategate controversy with a “Make America Great Again” hat perched behind his left shoulder.
Trump since has tied himself to the Patriots like Drake to the sports team du jour. Trump said Tom Brady called him multiple times surrounding the 2016 presidential election. He said Bill Belichick wrote him a letter prior to the election. Robert Kraft has been spotted both at Trump Tower and on Air Force One. Surrounding the election, Trump was the perpetually single guy who finally got a girlfriend and couldn’t stop talking about how great she was.
But if the majority of the team skips the White House visit? That’s a story. And it’s one that suddenly shifts New England from being a Trump team to one that at least straddles the line.
We’ll find out how many players attend and how many skip the visit in six hours. If the attendance is typical, then it’s status quo for the Trump Patriots. But if it’s sparse? Trump might have to break up with the suddenly unfaithful Patriots.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images