By Mario A. Cortez
Sport in the United States has generally existed under a very simple rhetoric of hard work, fair competition, and coming together. It is this simple, yet idealistic, view that has lead sports to become an integral part of the American psyche and to become a tool to teach children valuable skills, such as teamwork, and to be respectful of others.
It has been that same adherence to what can be called “core values” that has lead sports to become a unifying tool around the world. Using a local team as a stand-in for what makes a city or town great can unite total strangers based on the feelings brought on by a combination of color and iconography.
It is this unifying force behind sports that pushes politics off to the side. A wedge as strong as politics, which often divides based on ideology, social status, race and religion, to mention a few, simply cannot coexist with an activity that encourages inclusion, honesty, and harmony.
Unlike in parts of Europe, there are no team affiliations to ideologies or political parties in the United States. There is no American analogue to Italy’s S.S. Lazio, a soccer club whose supporter sections identify with right wing and fascist ideologies, or an analogue to Olympique Marseille, a French soccer side whose fans are often linked to left wing militancy movements.
The most political sport ever appears to get in the U.S. is when a championship team visits the White House, which is mostly a simple visit where the President extends his congratulations and takes a couple of pictures with the players. All in all, it is just a fun thing to do for both the Commander-in-Chief and an outstanding group of athletes.
But, with the arrival of Donald Trump to the Presidency, however, many athletes and fans are very wary of the message a meeting with such a polarizing political figure might send.
Speculation on what teams would actually visit President Trump began last year after the Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA championship, becoming the last major sports league winners to visit Barack Obama at the White House. With some high-profile athletes expressing their distaste for Trump, the possibility of teams skipping on a visit to the President became latent.
All of these undercurrents and recent events have added an extra layer of suspense to the New England Patriots’ shocking comeback during last Sunday’s Super Bowl, even after the champagne
was sprayed and the championship trophy was proudly displayed.
Two of the men behind the comeback victory, quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, have expressed their admiration for Donald Trump, which has been reciprocated by Trump himself.
Tom Brady has expressed that Donald Trump is a good friend and golf buddy of his. Brady has also received gifts from the real estate mogul, including a red “Make America Great Again” hat which has been spotted in his locker on several occasions.
Bill Belichick has spoken kindly of Trump and has even congratulated him via letter, which Trump read publicly.
In his letter, Belichick congratulates Trump on “a tremendous campaign,” and continues by stating the following: “You have dealt with an unbelievable slanted and negative media, and have come out beautifully – beautifully…Your leadership is amazing.”
Meanwhile, two other men behind the victory, Devin McCourty and Martellus Bennett, have issued a challenge to other African-American teammates, as well as Patriots staff members, to not visit the White House.
“Basic reason for me is I don’t feel accepted in the White House. With the President having so many strong opinions and prejudices I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t,” said McCourty when asked about his planned absence.
“You just don’t bring [politics] to work. We all have our beliefs. We accept people for who they are,” stated Bennett regarding his skipping a meeting with the President.
While American sports have seen relatively small gestures with political motivations over the last year, such as Colin Kaepernick’s kneel or raised fists during the National Anthem, protesting the President and his divisive rhetoric may become a louder, more significant movement among professional athletes.
Needless to say, the players meeting with Donald Trump in the coming weeks, as well as those who will skip out on the date, will be sending a message to their fanbase and to those watching.