On a Wednesday afternoon late last month, at a ceremony on the White House South Lawn, President Donald Trump introduced several new members of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.
Former New York Yankees great Mariano Rivera, former running back Herschel Walker and gold-medalist beach volleyball player Misty May-Treanor were all called out. Then Trump acknowledged another group of athletes who happened to be there that day, and were receiving an honor the Philadelphia Eagles, the Golden State Warriors and several other championship-winning teams have not in a polarized era, when a previously harmless photo-op with the leader of the free world has become a fraught activity.
“And we have the Wake Forest NCAA championship tennis team here,” Trump said.
The men’s squad had won the national title barely a week before, defeating Ohio State on their home complex in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Yet here they were at the White House just eight days later. How’s that?
“Patrick is back there,” Trump said, calling out perhaps his favorite Demon Deacon.
Trump is not an NCAA tennis junkie. “Patrick” is Patrick Hannity, son of Sean Hannity, the Fox News host. He is a redshirt freshman who previously starred at Cold Spring Harbor High School on Long Island, where he was a New York state finalist in doubles. He played only in the fall this season, compiling records of 3-4 this season in singles and 3-4 in doubles, but was invaluable when it came to getting his team into the Oval Office.
Sean Hannity “helped instigate the talks” that led to the White House visit, a Wake Forest spokesman confirmed.
“That was the driving force,” the spokesman, Dan Wallace, added.
It is not unusual for the NCAA men’s tennis champion to receive a White House visit. Recent title-winners from Southern California, UCLA and the University of Virginia all took part in presidential fetes. However, these visits occurred during days reserved for numerous NCAA champions in less-heralded sports, like one in November 2017 that featured 18 teams.
Under the current administration, White House visits are by no means assured. Shortly after Wake Forest’s trip, Trump disinvited the Eagles having learned that fewer than 10 members of the team planned to show up. Last year, Trump appeared to pull a “you can’t break up with me, because I’m breaking up with you” on the Golden State Warriors after they won the NBA championship. A visit this year has already been ruled out.
The University of North Carolina men’s basketball team did not visit after its 2017 championship, while Villanova (another Philadelphia team) has yet to receive an invitation more than two months after cutting down the nets, a spokesman confirmed. The South Carolina women’s basketball team declined a White House invitation last year.
If not for the Hannity connection, the Wake Forest men’s tennis team would seem an unlikely choice for a special visit hosted by a president whose administration has planned a crackdown on foreign students who overstay their visas as part of a broader drive to tighten immigration. The six Wake Forest players whose singles matches counted in the championship round hail from Croatia, Cyprus, Tunisia, Israel, Uzbekistan and Germany, according to the roster.
Sean Hannity did not respond to a request for comment. Though not a White House official, Hannity has been an informal adviser and sounding board for Trump, according to The New York Times and other reports. The White House did not return a request for comment.
During a roughly quarter-hour Oval Office visit that afternoon, which included one-on-one photo opportunities, Trump was interested in which Wake Forest player had the biggest serve, Wake Forest’s spokesman said. He was told it was Christian Seraphim, a redshirt senior listed as 6 foot 10. At the South Lawn ceremony, Seraphim got a shout-out from the president.
Then Trump extended another privilege to the team that most visitors don’t receive.
“We have a beautiful tennis court,” he said, “if you guys want to practice.”