BOSTON (CBS) — Six Patriots players have publicly declared their intentions to skip the Super Bowl LI champions’ White House visit, for various reasons. It’s far from the first time that there would be players absent from the team’s trip – but Donald Trump’s polarizing presidency has led anyone’s decision to avoid the White House to draw more scrutiny than usual.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft addressed the matter when he joined Matt Lauer on The Today Show on Monday. Lauer asked Kraft if his friendship with the president has in any way strained his relationship with some Patriots players. While Kraft did not directly deny the question, he did not sound worried about his friendship with Trump causing any issues. In fact, he’s wondering why players skipping the White House would be an issue in the first place – because it wasn’t in prior seasons.
“It’s interesting, this is our fifth Super Bowl in the last 16 years, and every time we’ve had the privilege of going to the White House, a dozen of our players don’t go. This is the first time it’s gotten any media attention,” said Kraft. “Some other players have the privilege of going [to the White House] in college because they’re on national championship teams. Others have family commitments. But this is America; we’re all free to do whatever’s best for us. We’re just privileged to be in a position to be going.”
Kraft attended a dinner at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort with the president and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. The friendship between the Kraft family and the president is well-documented, but it doesn’t appear to be creating any internal problems for the Super Bowl champions – despite players’ public decisions to skip the team’s trip to D.C..
Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, cornerback Devin McCourty, and running back LeGarrette Blount all cited problems related specifically to President Trump and his administration as their reasons for skipping the Patriots’ White House visit. Both McCourty and Blount said that they would not feel “accepted” in the White House. Defensive end Chris Long didn’t get into specifics, but alluded to political reasons for not attending.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower is also skipping the White House visit, but denied that it had anything to do with politics. He’s one of Kraft’s aforementioned examples of a college player who had already visited the White House by the time he made it to the NFL. “Been there, done that,” said Hightower, who visited the White House with the NCAA champion Alabama Crimson Tide in 2012 but skipped the Patriots’ White House visit after winning Super Bowl XLIX.
Defensive tackle Alan Branch cited family time as his reason for skipping the Patriots’ White House trip. But even if he cited political reasons, that doesn’t mean that Kraft would have had an issue with that. And despite the unprecedented media coverage of players who won’t visit the White House, that doesn’t mean it’s all because of President Trump.