By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Players don’t play football with the goal of earning a trip to the White House. They play football to make money and maybe, if they’re lucky, win a Super Bowl.
Yet now in the wake of the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI victory over the Atlanta Falcons, the major story has become which Patriots will be skipping the trip to be greeted by President Donald Trump.
It began, actually, before the Patriots even won. Martellus Bennett told reporters at media day that if the Patriots won, he likely wouldn’t be going. Since the Patriots won the championship, Bennett has confirmed his desire to skip the trip, as have LeGarrette Blount, Alan Branch, Chris Long, Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty.
Given the naturally controversial nature of a figure like Trump, this has grown into something of a national story. Team owner Robert Kraft — a personal friend of Trump — was asked about the situation in two national TV interviews this week. Likewise Tom Brady — who hung a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker early in Trump’s run at the presidency and also skipped the Patriots’ trip to D.C. back in 2015 — has been asked for his thoughts on the matter. There are columns in The Washington Post, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and The Boston Globe. Tony Gonzalez is weighing in with TMZ. It’s been covered by CBS News, NBC News, CNBC, Fox News and The Los Angeles Times. USA Today wondered aloud if the Patriots might set a record for White House boycotts. And on Tuesday, USA Today twisted Brady’s words to try to turn an innocuous statement into a directive to his teammates.
Suffice it to say, the story is garnering some attention.
On one hand, it’s understandable. Trump entered the office with historically low approval ratings. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote and received the most votes for a losing presidential candidate in history. And Trump’s first month in the office has not been without its controversy, from his executive orders to his cabinet appointees to his handling of classified information. Michael Flynn’s resignation as National Security Adviser this week only furthers the controversial nature of the Trump presidency.
But even with that being established, might there be a few people who are eager to politicize the choice of a few football players to skip the White House? Certainly, suggesting the Patriots might set a record for White House refusals after just six players expressed their desire to skip the trip seems to be a bit of a stretch.
And while no situation is ever apples-to-apples, let’s take a look back to see what the turnout for the Patriots’ previous four trips to the White House has been.
Back in April 2002, after the Patriots first Super Bowl win in franchise history, the turnout was certainly very good. But it does not look like 100 percent … or even close to it:
Two years later, when the Patriots visited George W. Bush for the second time, it was a small gathering for sure:
And in the spring of 2005, following the Patriots’ third championship in four years, a significant portion of the 53-man roster was not present in the nation’s capital:
Two years ago, following the Patriots’ dramatic Super Bowl XLIX victory over the Seahawks, the turnout was notably larger. This was the Patriots’ lone White House visit during the Barack Obama presidency, and it appears as though many staffers were invited to line the stairs to be honored in front of the crowd. Yet even just looking at the players, it was a strong turnout:
Given the large turnout for the trip to Obama, compared with what is shaping up to perhaps be a much lower turnout for Trump, and yes, the potential disparity is noteworthy.
But take it all together, and it’s clear that many Patriots over the years have opted to bypass the trip to the White House. Brady’s absence certainly drew significant attention in 2015, but for the most part, it’s never been a major national story until now.