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A New Era – the Breaking of Precedents

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Donald Trump poses for a photo-op with the New England Patriots, winners of Super Bowl LI

Donald Trump poses for a photo-op with the New England Patriots, winners of Super Bowl LI

NBC News

NBC News

Donald Trump poses for a photo-op with the New England Patriots, winners of Super Bowl LI

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1869. That was the first year a professional sports team was invited to the White House. To commemorate their perfect 65-0 season, then-President Ulysses S. Grant welcomed the Cincinnati Red Stockings baseball team to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a dinner reception, as well as a guided tour of the historic building. The visit ended with an official team photo-shoot, in which each player had the honor of shaking the president’s hand and receiving his personal congratulations for a successful playing season.

The setting of precedents is one of the foundational elements of the peaceful transition of power from one president to the next in this country. It establishes a well-defined, peer-approved model of how one should conduct themselves and handle the responsibilities of the presidency. These unwritten guidelines for “proper presidential behavior” are what reassure the citizens of America that the winner of the November election every fourth year, regardless of political ideology, will continue to run the nation with the necessary standards and virtues required of the leader of the free world.

In the last century-and-a-half, subsequent presidents have continued the precedent set by Grant in offering a cordial invitation to all championship-winning, professional sports teams every year to visit the White House. Over time, the White House visit has become a time-honored tradition in all major professional sports, as a way of celebrating individual and organizational success.

And who wouldn’t want the opportunity to shake the hand of the most powerful person on the planet? As such, the White House plays yearly host to the World Series champs, the NBA champs, and the Super Bowl champs, among others.

Now, let’s fast-forward 148 years from President Grant’s first meeting with the Red Stockings. An entirely new kind of presence now resides in the Oval Office.

Donald Trump is many things, too many things to be able to stuff into this one humble article. But if there is one thing that encapsulates everything he represents as the current leader of the free world, he is a precedent-breaker. Suffice to say, the precedent of championship sports organizations visiting the president in his home is in very real danger of being broken.

Thus far, Trump has played host to three teams during his presidency – the Super Bowl LI champion New England Patriots, the 2016 World Series winner Chicago Cubs, and the 2017 College Football champion Clemson Tigers. It would seem that the controversy surrounding him has yet to dissuade organizations from accepting an invitation to the White House. But uncertainty and unrest lurk beneath the surface.

A total of 34 players did not attend the Patriots’ recent visit to Washington DC, a stark increase in absences from the fifteen who did not attend in 2015, the Patriots’ last Super Bowl-winning season. Notable names among those 34 include Dont’a Hightower, Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, and James White, key cogs in the Patriots’ success. These four, among others, were outspoken on their rationale for declining the invite – as black athletes, they did not feel welcome in the home of a man who had built his campaign on hate, racism, and bigotry.

And they aren’t alone. With racial tensions in the United States as high as they’ve been since the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s, athletes of color have not been shy about using their platform to underscore their lack of appreciation for the current sociopolitical climate. It started with these Patriots who refused to visit the White House. It moved to players declining to stay at Trump-owned properties while playing on the road. It’s since transitioned to individuals refusing to stand for the national anthem of a country that they feel no longer protects their civil liberties.

With regards to the White House visit precedent, the next year or so could prove to be the deciding factor as to whether or not Trump upholds the century-old tradition. The Golden State Warriors, newly crowned NBA champions, have been very public of their intentions. Prominent Warrior players, including international superstars Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, have already said that they will not attend, should they be invited.

Which, of course, begs the question – will Trump even extend an invitation to them? Considering how brazen they’ve been in their criticism of him, the Warriors may prove to be the first professional sports team since 1869 to not receive a presidential invite after a championship season.

In the grand scheme of things, the matter of the championship-visit precedent coming to an end is trivial, at least when considered in a vacuum. The social implications, however, are anything but.

While some may disagree, it’s important that individuals who have the power of a platform use that power to express their displeasure with the injustices, intolerance, and insensitivity that have become the norm with the current sociopolitical climate. To stand idly by for fear of criticism for “stepping out of their lane” only compounds the problem and deepens the recent divides that have splintered our country. All athletes, black or white, have a responsibility to the millions of fans that have given them their fame and fortune to stand up and speak out against heinous breaches of moral character.

And if it comes at the expense of a long-standing, presidential precedent, then so be it.

 

 

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A New Era – the Breaking of Precedents