Jelani Scott | Sports Editor
The New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28, to win Super Bowl 51 and, in the process, earned a trip to The White House for the traditional champions’ ceremony.
Many consider this to be the ultimate honor but, for two outspoken Patriots’ players, Disney World may seem like a better way to spend the day. Tight end Martellus Bennett and defensive back Devin McCourty declared almost immediately after their team’s sensational win that they will not be attending the customary White House visit.
Both players, who are African-American, cited their opposition to the political views of President Donald Trump as the primary reason for their withdrawals. “I’m not going to the White House,” McCourty told TIME Magazine on Monday. “Basic reason for me is I don’t feel accepted in the White House.
With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t.” The seven-year veteran’s comments echo the sentiments that President Trump spewed last August on KIRO radio in Seattle.
While being interviewed by KIRO personality Dori Monson, Trump slandered the actions of then-San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who spent much of the 2016 season taking a stance (and a knee) against injustice.
“I think it’s personally not a good thing, I think it’s a terrible thing. And, you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try, it won’t happen,” the 70-year-old then-Republican candidate said.
The 29-year-old Bennett, who has been in the league since 2008 and has played for the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Chicago Bears, made his feelings clear and possibly ignited the fuse that inspired McCourty.
“I haven’t thought about it. I am not going to go,” the Black Lives Matter movement supporter said to the media after Super Bowl 51.
When he was asked about the potential criticism he may face from team owner Robert Kraft, Bennett said he is “not really worried” about it and that they keep the topic of politics outside of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. “You just don’t bring that to work.
We all have our beliefs. We accept people for who they are,” he added. This is not the first time that Bennett and McCourty have made headlines for being unafraid to stand up. On September 11, 2016, both players raised their clenched fists at the end of “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ prior to their team’s opening night game against the Arizona Cardinals (pictured to the right).
The image of the Patriots’ players was eerily reminiscent of the shot of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico.
While the SB 51 champions’ refusal may seem unprecedented based on the circumstances that surround it, this is not the first time professional athletes have opted to pass on the champions’ ceremony with the President.
Like Bennett and McCourty, former Baltimore Ravens’ lineman Matt Birk also made the decision based on his dislike for a president. In 2013, following the Ravens’ Super Bowl 47 win, Birk said he did not agree with a speech made by then-President Obama during which he referenced Planned Parenthood. “Planned Parenthood performs about 330,000 abortions a year.
I am Catholic. I am active in the pro-life movement, and I just felt like I couldn’t deal with that. I couldn’t endorse that in any way,” said Birk via Will Brinson of CBS Sports.
Birk’s outrage, however, may have been misguided as Brinson noted that Obama concluded the speech saying, “Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you. God bless America,” none of which express a definite point of view.
Other players, such as NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, Pittsburgh Steelers’ LB James Harrison and Houston Texans’ QB Brock Osweiler, alluded to “personal reasons” for not accompanying their team to the nation’s capital.
Patriots’ QB Tom Brady is also among the list of players who opted not to participate. After winning Super Bowl 49, Brady skipped the trip for a previously planned “family commitment.”
CBS Sports’ John Breech reported at the time “according to ESPN.com, the Patriots’ quarterback was actually at Gillette Stadium getting some stretching in while the rest of the team was visiting with Obama.”
It may never fully be revealed whether or not Brady opted out for not seeing eye-to-eye with Obama but his affiliation with President Trump almost makes it guaranteed that he will now attend.
He will be doing so, however, without at least two integral parts of his championship team.