What Had Happened Was Trending stories on the intersections of race, sports & culture

Celebration Bowl gets a title sponsor: The Air Force Reserve

The Dec. 15 game will open the college bowl season on ABC

12:24 PMThe premier historically black college football game of the season has gotten a title sponsor, with the Air Force Reserve renewing its sponsorship of the Celebration Bowl.

The fourth annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl is the championship game between champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). Operated by ESPN Events, the game will be played on Dec. 15 from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and will be televised on ABC. The game will be the first game of college football bowl season.

“We are thrilled to have the Air Force Reserve join us again as the title sponsor of the Celebration Bowl,” said John Grant, Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl executive director. “The theme of this year’s Celebration Bowl is all about the celebration of service. Partnering with the Air Force Reserve allows us to truly honor and commemorate those who volunteer and serve to protect both for the community and the country.”

It’s the fourth consecutive year that the conference champions will play. The MEAC leads the series 2-1, with both wins coming from North Carolina A&T, whose last-minute 21-14 win over Grambling State in 2017 capped the first unbeaten season in MEAC history. Grambling won the SWAC’s first title in 2016 with a 10-9 victory over North Carolina Central.

“We are excited to be the title sponsor of the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Michael Johnson, AFRCRS. “This year’s bowl game celebrating service lines up perfectly with what the Air Force Reserve does every day serving our nation at home and abroad as part of this nation’s national defense. We are looking forward to telling the great story of the Air Force Reserve, its mission and the benefits of serving to a national audience.”

ESPN will televise 35 bowl games, including all 14 of ESPN Events’ owned and operated contests, over 17 days, beginning Dec. 15 and concluding on New Year’s Day. The games will set the table for the college football national championship, which will conclude the season on Jan. 7, 2019, from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

Now hockey faces the dilemma of a White House visit

Washington Capitals owner struggles as two of team’s stars say they won’t go

5:48 PMThe tradition in hockey is for the winner of the Stanley Cup to visit the White House to celebrate the title. But if two of your team’s best players have said they won’t go, what do you do?

This is an especially wrenching question in a sport often extolled as the ultimate team game. Is it truly all for one and one for all? This conundrum now confronts Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, whose team ended decades of frustration by capturing its first Stanley Cup last season.

Normally, winning the Cup touches off a long celebration capped by a White House visit. But the once-routine championship visits to the White House have become anything but routine since Donald Trump took office nearly two years ago.

Many athletes, citing what they see as the president’s divisive politics and racially charged rhetoric, have refused to go. Entire teams, including the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, have been disinvited. In June, the White House nixed a planned visit by the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles after a large number of players said they would not attend. Instead of honoring the champions, the White House hosted what it called “A Celebration of America.” The entire exercise is seen by many as a litmus test of how a team and its owner view the president.

None of this seems to be lost on Leonsis, who has the look of a man caught in the middle. Two of his team’s forwards, Devante Smith-Pelly, a Canadian and one of a handful of black players in the NHL, and Brett Connolly, who is also Canadian, said they won’t be attending.

“I don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” Connolly has told reporters. Asked about his intentions in June, Smith-Pelly was even more pointed. “The things that he spews are straight-up racist and sexist,” Canada’s Postmedia quoted Smith-Pelly as saying.

At the same time, news reports have suggested that most Capitals players would be willing to go to the White House if the team were invited.

The competing opinions of his players have left Leonsis ducking for cover. “What I have said is, we’re in Washington, D.C., and the players and the coaching staff have to decide. I’m not going to influence, and if we go to the White House, I will go to the White House,” he told The Washington Post this week. “But they haven’t made it to that conversation and a vote yet — and appropriately so. It’s like, why have to address that and get deep into that discussion when we’re putting up the banner? I’m sure at some point, as the season gets started, there’ll be a team meeting and they’ll talk about it and come out and tell us what to do.”

So far, the Capitals have yet to be officially invited to the White House. Their biggest star, Alex Ovechkin, is Russian, and the president has made a point of trying for more friendly relations with the Putin government. Could that mean a warm welcome at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., even if a couple of stars elect not to attend?