President Trump roils sports world – The Hill

The divisive political climate roiling the entertainment industry is extending into the sports world.

Six members and counting on the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots will skip a trip to the White House.

NBA MVP Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors insulted Trump in a recent interview with the Mercury News, saying the president is an asset “if you remove the ‘et.’ ”

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James announced his opposition to Trump’s executive order suspending travel to the United States by refugees and people from seven Muslim-majority nations.

“I stand with the many, many Americans who believe this does not represent what the United States is all about,” James said while accepting an NAACP award, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

It’s hardly the first time athletes have caused a ruckus over politics — including over supposedly nonpolitical trips to the White House. 

In 1984, Boston Celtics star Larry Bird declined to visit President Ronald Reagan’s White House after an NBA championship.

More recently, Tim Thomas, the star goaltender for the Boston Bruins, skipped his team’s White House trip over opposition to President Obama’s policies. 

Thomas specifically cited federal government overreach.

Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk and Dan Hampton, a lineman for the 1985 Chicago Bears who received a belated White House visit under Obama, also skipped their ceremonies for political reasons.

But the number of Patriots defections, coupled with public statements by other athletes critical of Trump, suggests the fissure in the sports world over the president will be greater than anything seen before.

“I don’t feel accepted in the White House,” Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty, one of the six players who say they’ll skip the trip, told Time.

“With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices, I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t.” 

The circumstances of Trump’s victory are undoubtedly contributing to the tensions.

Trump won a surprise victory over Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonFlynn’s call to lock up Clinton resurfaces after resignation Michael Flynn Jr.: ‘The disinformation campaign against my father won’ Trump: ‘Real story’ of Flynn resignation is illegal leaks MORE, who defeated the Republican in the popular vote.

Trump succeeded Obama, who left office with an approval rating above 50 percent. Trump’s approval rating is now 40 percent, according to Gallup.

The fact that Obama embraced the sports world — and was embraced in return by many black athletes as the nation’s first African-American president — also may play a role.

James and Curry are among the sports stars who have appeared in politically themed ads with Obama. James also campaigned for Clinton.

Both stars made the finals last year. If their teams  have a rematch, however, the winner seems unlikely to go to the White House.

Two head coaches of NBA teams — Steve Kerr of Golden State and Gregg Popovich of San Antonio — have also been outspoken against Trump.

The defections by Patriots players are noteworthy because of Trump’s ties to the team.

The president, who hasn’t yet formally invited the Patriots to the White House, is closely associated with owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. On Friday night, Trump dined with Kraft and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Florida.

Kraft has sought to downplay the defections.

“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,” he said on NBC’s “Today” on Monday.

“This is America. We’re all free to do whatever’s best for us, and we’re just privileged to be in a position to be going.”

Jerry Gems, an American sports historian who teaches at North Central College in Illinois, said the boycotts by individual players are probably a sign of things to come.

“If they’re not going to be agreeable to his perspective, or if there’s any chance of anybody making any kind of statement, he might not want them there,” Gems said.

President Andrew Johnson was the first to invite sports teams to the White House in 1865. The 1924 Washington Senators got the first invitation after a World Series win, from President Calvin Coolidge.

The practice has expanded since then, with President George W. Bush bringing in NCAA teams for the first time. Obama hosted champion sports teams at the White House dozens of times, the last being his hometown Chicago Cubs a few days before Inauguration Day.

Standing at the White House alongside winning teams has been seen as good politics by presidents from both parties.

“There’s a clear benefit to being associated with sports, which people don’t see as political. And certainly a lot of younger people, in particular, look up to sports heroes,” Gems said.

“Given the demographics, all politicians would certainly like to be associated with something that’s perceived as positive.”

But, like many traditions Trump has skipped or significantly altered, he might decide that the visits, in their current form, do not serve him.

“If it becomes more negative than positive, clearly he will defer, or he’ll pick and choose individuals, rather than a whole team,” Gems said.

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