BOSTON (CBS) – By now you’ve surely seen the video of the New England Patriots being honored at the White House Wednesday. And beyond some kind words for President Trump from his longtime friend Robert Kraft and a passing comparison by Mr. Trump of his election victory to the Patriots’ Super Bowl comeback, the event seemed pretty much free of politics.
But of course, it really wasn’t.
Several Patriots skipped the event because of their political differences with the president, the continuation of a trend of athletes turning a benign ceremony into a political soapbox.
Presidents have been inviting champion pro and college sports teams to the White House since 1924.
But it wasn’t until the 1990’s, when golfer Tom Lehman refused to join his Ryder Cup teammates at the event because he saw President Bill Clinton as a “draft-dodging baby killer,” that overt political disputes started becoming part of this tradition.
In 2008 U.S. women’s soccer team coach Pia Sundhage boycotted, citing political disagreements with President George W. Bush.
And that sort of thing started happening much more frequently during the Obama years, starting with Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who famously skipped the Bruins trip to the White House after their 2011 Stanley Cup triumph because of his contempt for President Obama.
That view was shared by Baltimore Raven Matt Birk and three members of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins, all of whom cited politics in explaining why they didn’t join their teammates at the White House.
They’re all within their rights, but what a shame to see the celebration of sports excellence, a true cultural common ground, become just another bitter, polarized political forum.