Athletes passing on visiting the White House is nothing new
If the Eagles get an invite, the players who have said they’ll skip the trip would join a long list
Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles are one of the most socially conscious teams in the NFL.
Yes, their theme song comes from a jailed rapper.
And, yes, at least three high-profile members of the team — Malcolm Jenkins, Torrey Smith and Chris Long — have said they wouldn’t attend the annual gathering of football champions at the White House.
But the Eagles, after winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history, will still get invited to meet the president, right?
Remember Stephen Curry, who was disinvited (even before a formal invitation was extended) to the White House by President Donald Trump after saying he wouldn’t make the trip anyway? That disinvitation, which Trump tweeted before the Golden State Warriors had met to decide whether to attend if invited, led the 2017 NBA champions to announce they’d “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion” in lieu of a White House visit.
Whether the Eagles will suffer that same fate remains to be seen even though the last 14 Super Bowl champions before the Eagles have been received at the White House under the past three administrations (George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump).
While the history of teams visiting the White House dates to 1865 (when two amateur baseball teams visited President Andrew Johnson), the history of NFL teams visiting the White House goes back to 1980. President Jimmy Carter was presented a terrible towel by a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who made a joint appearance at the White House with the 1979 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates.
NFL teams visiting the White House became an annual occurrence in the late 1980s under President Ronald Reagan.
The 1985 Chicago Bears were invited to the White House by Reagan after winning Super Bowl XX on Jan. 26, 1986. But the space shuttle Challenger exploded just two days after the game, and as the nation mourned the Bears’ visit was pre-empted (and never rescheduled until 2011, when Obama invited the team to Washington).
When the New York Giants visited the White House in 1987 — with Harry Carson dumping a bucket of popcorn on Reagan, mimicking the linebacker’s penchant for dumping Gatorade on coach Bill Parcells — presidential photo ops with Super Bowl champions became an annual event with four exceptions.
The Giants didn’t visit Washington after winning Super Bowl XXV in Tampa, Florida, in 1991 — just 10 days after the United States entered the first Gulf War (that game is perhaps best known for Whitney Houston’s iconic version of the national anthem).
The Denver Broncos were never invited to the White House after winning Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999. And the team never got a reason. But that slight might have something to do with President Bill Clinton getting impeached (on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice after denying an affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky) the month before Denver’s victory.
The next year, the St. Louis Rams were invited after winning Super Bowl XXXIV at the Georgia Dome in 2000, but that offer was rescinded as Clinton got caught up attempting to broker a peace agreement in the Middle East.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are credited with being the last Super Bowl championship team to not be received by the White House and Bush after winning the 2003 Super Bowl. Like 1991, war was the reason, as the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003.
If the Eagles do visit the White House, Jenkins, Long and Smith will join a lengthy list of professional athletes who have previously passed up the invitation:
- Tom Brady, LeGarrette Blount, Chris Long and Martellus Bennett: These were among the higher-profile members of the New England Patriots who didn’t show up to meet Trump at the White House last year. For Brady, it was the second time he missed a White House ceremony with the Patriots (he also skipped the 2015 visit with Obama). Brady cited family reasons for both absences. Like Long, Blount is now a member of the champion Eagles.
- Matt Birk: The Ravens center skipped his team’s 2013 visit after hearing remarks Obama made during a speech at a Planned Parenthood event. “I am Catholic. I am active in the pro-life movement, and I just felt like I couldn’t deal with that,” Birk said.
- James Harrison: While he was with the Steelers, Harrison skipped two visits to the White House (one visit with Bush in 2006 and another with Obama in 2009). “I don’t feel the need to go, actually,” Harrison said about skipping the visit in 2009. “I don’t feel like it’s that big a deal to me.”
- Manny Ramirez: The Boston Red Sox slugger was absent when the team visited the White House after its 2007 World Series victory. “I guess his grandmother died again,” Bush joked. “Just kidding. Tell Manny I didn’t mean it.” Bush had been told after the team won the World Series in 2004 that Ramirez had skipped that visit because his grandmother was sick.
- Michael Jordan: Never one to miss an opportunity to play golf, Jordan opted to spend a day on a course in Hilton Head, South Carolina, rather than join his teammates to visit the elder Bush in 1991.
- Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Cedric Maxwell: All three skipped the Boston Celtics’ visit to the White House to meet Reagan after winning the 1984 title. Maxwell claimed he was getting ready for his wedding. Bird relayed this message to the White House: “If the president wants to see me, he knows where to find me.”
- Manny Fernandez, Bob Kuechenberg and Jim Langer: All were members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only NFL team to finish a season undefeated. There was no White House ceremony for NFL teams after the Dolphins won the Super Bowl in 1973, leading Obama to honor that team on the 40th anniversary in 2013. All three declined to join their teammates because they disliked the president. “I just don’t believe in this administration at all,” Kuechenberg said. “So I don’t belong. “
The Undefeated made efforts to find out from the White House whether there are official guidelines on what teams receive invitations to the White House, but those attempts went unanswered.
Last month, the World Series champion Houston Astros accepted an invitation to visit the White House. The Patriots, Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and college football national champion Clemson Tigers are among the teams that have visited the White House during the Trump administration.
Neither of the basketball teams that won the NCAA Division I national championship in 2017, men’s champion North Carolina and women’s champion South Carolina, visited the White House last year.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley at first wanted to go, making her feelings clear after winning the title last April when she said “it’s what national champions do.” Staley expressed frustration in late September that an invite had not been extended (the previous five women’s champions had been honored at the White House mostly in the summer, and no later than mid-September).
The White House eventually invited the team to visit in November during an event honoring NCAA champions, but the women’s basketball season had started and Staley declined. That leaves South Carolina as the only NCAA women’s Division I national championship basketball team since 1983 not to visit the White House.
North Carolina announced in September that it had turned down an invite after failing to work out a date. Coach Roy Williams had been critical of Trump, saying during the ACC tournament that “our president tweets out more bulls— than anybody I’ve ever seen.”
It has not been announced whether Alabama, which won the college football national championship last month, has received an invite, but social change organization CREDO Action started a petition last fall asking Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban not to visit Trump if the team won the championship.
Twitter has been the platform the president has used to lash out against detractors. Among the Super Bowl champion Eagles, the president has a few detractors.
Perhaps Twitter might be the platform on which the Eagles find out whether they will be welcomed at the White House.