In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant welcomed the Cincinnati Red Stockings to the White House.
Championship teams visiting the White House isn’t just a part of American culture, it’s history.
Until Donald Trump happened.
From here on out, the conversation about who goes and who doesn’t is going to be a topic of conversation under this current administration.
I’m not here to be “political” or discuss my thoughts or views on our current president, but I am here to tell you that White House visits have now become a shining example of how politics and sports are intertwined.
This past week, three different teams were in the news concerning the White House. On Monday, the Clemson Tigers made their first White House visit since 1982, which is ironic given the polarizing individual who was in office then, Ronald Reagan.
Later that night, the Golden State Warriors won their second NBA Championship in three years. And hours after the champagne was popped, there were reports, rumors and talk of how the Warriors had unanimously decided not to visit the White House. However, by Tuesday afternoon the team came out with an official statement that basically said, “we haven’t even been invited yet, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Which really meant, “Thanks, but we’re going to sit this one out.” Many of the Cleveland Cavaliers had already been on record throughout the season saying that they wouldn’t go if they won it all.
Also on Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins released a statement announcing that they would be making the trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, after their Stanley Cup Championship win on Sunday.
“The Pittsburgh Penguins would never turn down a visit to the White House and, if invited, we would go as a team,” said team CEO David Morehouse in a prepared statement. “We respect the office of the presidency of the United States and what it stands for. Any opposition or disagreement with a president’s policies, or agenda, can be expressed in other ways.”
The peculiar thing about the Penguins’ situation is that Morehouse used to work for Bill Clinton, and even helped out Al Gore during his run. Penguins owner Ron Burkle even donates to Democratic causes.
But, white people gon’ “white people,” because race is at the core of this.
Almost the entire Penguins’ roster is white. Everybody on the Golden State Warriors’ roster is black, besides Zaza Pachulia, who is from Georgia, the country not the state. The Cavs’ roster is all black, except for two members. And the majority of Clemson’s roster is black.
So, while Morehouse may be able to put aside his political alliances out of respect to the office of the presidency, black people don’t have that luxury, especially when the president’s entire campaign was fueled by hate, bigotry and racism. It’s kind of hard to stand on a stage and shake a man’s hand when you know almost everything he’s trying to do in office will negatively affect people who look like you.
There was a reason a large number of both black and white players were missing from the New England Patriots’ team photo at the White House. Trump’s approval rating is reaching an all-time low for a reason.
But the team everyone should keep their eye on when it comes to White House visits should be the North Carolina Tar Heels.
When Carolina won it all back in April, head coach Roy Williams was asked if his team would make the visit, like they have in the past.
“Let me think on it,” Williams said. “Again, I don’t know if we’re going to get invited. I really don’t.”
Despite how Williams may feel about the president, he also understands that the majority of his team is black. Williams was also critical of the Republican-initiated “bathroom bill” in North Carolina.
“It shouldn’t just be about athletic events — that’s the most important thing. It should be about what’s right and wrong,” he said. “And what we have now is wrong.”
It’s two months later, and we still don’t know if UNC has been officially invited, or whether they have decided if they would make the trip. But don’t bet on it.
However, the fact that Clemson went wasn’t surprising. Head coach Dabo Swinney came under fire last season when he put his foot in his mouth trying to invoke Martin Luther King, a man whose entire being was about change through protest and civil disobedience, in his thoughts about not agreeing with Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality and black oppression.
“I think everybody has the right to express himself in that regard,” Swinney said. “But I don’t think it’s good to be a distraction to your team. I don’t think it’s good to use the team as a platform. I totally disagree with that. Not his protest. But I just think there’s a right way to do things. I don’t think two wrongs make a right. Never have, never will. I think it just creates more divisiveness, more division.”
Swinney later apologized, but the damage had already been done. Black America knew where he stood. But we expected nothing less from a “good ole Southern boy,” who still goes by the nickname of “Dabo” as a grown man.
Black people don’t rock with Trump. So as cool as visiting the White House for a photo op may be, we’re seeing that the majority of professional athletes, regardless of color, aren’t likely to be in D.C.
However, college is a different story.
Pay attention to who decides to go when White House invites are extended to universities. Colleges tend to have a greater say over their players than teams do on the pro level, as coaches tend to take on more of a parental role in the collegiate ranks. We also know that a collegiate White House visit may be some players’ only opportunity, given the low-percentage of players making it to the next level, let alone winning a championship there.
“I’ve never really been to the White House. It should be exciting to go with this group of girls,” said South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson after the team won the women’s national basketball championship in April. “We’re going to have fun, so I’m excited. Honestly, I’m just going to go and enjoy the moment, just take it all in. This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so why not enjoy it?”
However, the real question is what’s going to happen when more women’s teams have their chance to decline or accept their invitations?
“I’ve got options now. Yeah, I’m going to the White House,” said South Carolina’s women’s coach Dawn Staley. “It’s what it stands for. It’s what national champions do. We’ll go to the White House.”
Staley is correct. White House visits are what champions have traditionally done.
But this isn’t a “traditional” president.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump eventually shuts down the tradition that dates back to the 1800s.
That guy does whatever he wants, so why should we expect anything less from him?