Keith Strudler: The Spoils Of Super Bowl Victory
As the saying goes, to the victor goes the spoils. While it pains me to say this, the victor on Sunday was the New England Patriots, who managed to essentially steal the Super Bowl from the Atlanta Falcons, who will now spend the rest of their lives answering basic math questions about clock management. So New England gets all the accolades, the rings, the bonus money, the parades – basically all of those tangible perks that go to the winning team, which, let’s be clear, would have been Atlanta had they had not made even one in a series of bad decisions in the fourth quarter.
Of course, one of the most prized rewards for the winners, beyond lifetime bragging rights, is a trip to the White House to meet the President. This perk goes to the champions of many sports, both pro and college. You could make the argument this is one of the perks of being president as well, assuming you like sports. I’m sure it’s a welcome departure from political drudgery to shake hands with LeBron James or Peyton Manning. And I’m sure the athletes steal more than their share of White House MnMs and napkins.
At least those that go. Because this year, at least a couple of players on the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots will not make the trip down to DC. Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett and safety Devin McCourty will not join the team for the trip, because, as McCourty told Time Magazine, he would not “feel accepted in the White House.” Bennett was clear before the game that he wouldn’t go, since, as he put it, he does not “support the guy that’s in the White House.” So much for making a plausible excuse. This is kind of like telling your wife you can’t go out on Valentine’s Day because you already have a date with your girlfriend. Thus far it’s only those two, although star running back James White is still considering his options. I’m sure others could follow suit, since as you may have noticed, the President seems to make people feel less welcomed by the hour.
Obviously, there will be some Patriots there – and I’m talking about the team, not the poorly politicized vernacular. Tom Brady will assuredly arrive, given his kind of, sort of, a little vocal support of Trump. Same goes for Coach Belichick, who sent Trump a letter of support the day before the election, where he hoped Trump will have the chance to make America great again. As for the rest of the team, I will assume they’ll be there unless indicated otherwise. Even if after watching that parade, there may be a player or two you rather not have over at the house.
Skipping White House invitations is nothing new, even if it is always notable. Brady himself skipped a White House visit in 2015 due to what he termed a prior commitment. Some have been more forthcoming, like when Larry Bird told the press Ronald Reagan knew where to find him if he wanted to talk. Michael Jordan once skipped to spend time with his family – although in all fairness, Jordan did go a lot. So this current boycott, if that’s what it is, isn’t all that new.
In the past, I was pretty consistent on my feelings about athletes turning down an invitation to meet the President in his house. This went for both sides of the isle. As much as I may not have appreciated George W Bush’s tenure, I always felt it was important for star athletes to show the President, and more importantly the Presidency, due respect. That’s especially true because star athletes can set a tone for the public at large. So if an openly conservative athlete can visit a liberal President, that exemplifies the decorum we’d probably all like to see a bit more of. Conversely, if a democratic linebacker can’t even visit a Republican Commander-in-Chief, than what exactly should we tell our own kids? So I think, historically, yes, when the President invites you over, you go.
And yet, I don’t feel that way right now. It’s entirely possible this is my own political bias showing, where I can’t separate the person from the institution. Perhaps in my supporting New England Patriots staying home, I’m simply part of the problem. That’s up for other people to decide.
I’ll leave it at this. I’ve always thought that sport is a space that allows us to come together and lead the fight towards progress. And going to this particular White House, with this particular president who’s said many particular hurtful things and now is doing many particular acts that are what I believe to be anti-American and, more importantly, anti-humanitarian, I think going to this White House will not accomplish that. In the history of my lifetime, since I was really too young to understand the whole Nixon thing, athletes going to the White House helped America. Today, staying home does the same thing.
It’s an uneasy thought, that politics, or a politician would ruin of the true spoils of victory. I’m sure Atlanta would take that in a heartbeat.
Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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