At least three members of the New England Patriots have said they won’t go to the White House if invited to celebrate their Super Bowl victory.
In separate interviews, Duron Harmon, Jason McCourty, and Devin McCourty all said that they would decline a visit. While none said why, President Donald Trump has long polarized professional athletes, especially after his attacks on Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, and other players protesting police brutality and racial injustice.
In an interview after Sunday night’s game, Harmon, a safety, told a TMZ Sports reporter that he would not go if invited. “They don’t want me in the White House,” he said.
When the interviewer asked if Harmon would try to see former President Barack Obama instead, Harmon suggested that he would.
“Hey Obama, man, come holler at me,” he said. “We love you over here.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, the twin McCourty brothers also said they would probably skip a trip to Washington.
Presidents traditionally invite championship-winning teams to the White House to celebrate their victories, though Trump has rescinded at least two such offers after players publicly said they would not attend.
Last year, he withdrew an invitation for the Super Bowl-champion Philadelphia Eagles after it became clear that nearly all of the players and coaches would not come. In 2017, the president rescinded another such offer to the Golden State Warriors after one member of the NBA team, Stephen Curry, suggested he would not attend.
The protesting players and coaches have typically declined such visits because of Trump’s policies and statements, particularly his attacks on Kaepernick, who famously began kneeling during the national anthem at games in 2016 in protest of police brutality toward African-Americans.
The Patriots, however, have a more complicated relationship with the president.
The team’s owner, Robert K. Kraft, is a longtime supporter of Trump and considers him a friend, though Kraft did criticize the president for his response to the protests during the national anthem. Bill Belichick, the team’s coach, wrote a letter of support to Trump days before he won the 2016 election. And Tom Brady, the team’s star quarterback, has long faced questions about his relationship with Trump, whom he has known for years.
When Trump invited the Patriots to the White House after their 2017 Super Bowl victory, at least two dozen players skipped the event, including Brady, who said he was spending time with his ailing mother. Harmon and Devin McCourty also did not attend, while Jason McCourty was not yet a member of the team.
At the time, a Patriots spokesman said that 34 players had attended the 2017 White House event, a turnout similar to events hosted by President George W. Bush in 2004 and 2005. When Obama hosted the team in 2015, nearly 50 players showed up.
The spokesman cited another factor that could affect attendance: the Patriots’ frequent Super Bowl wins. Now, veteran players on a team that has won three championships in five years could find a White House visit less special, regardless of who occupies the Oval Office.
And Trump may be a lightning rod, but he is not the only president to face a protest from an athlete. In 2012, Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas declined to attend a White House event hosted by Obama in protest of what he described as a federal government that had “grown out of control.”