Sports no sure respite from politics when title-winning athletes visit the White House

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Calvin Coolidge wasn’t as large a baseball fan as his spouse, Grace. However even Silent Cal received swept up within the pleasure of the Washington Senators’ unexpectedly successful season in 1924. After the group clinched the American League pennant, the gamers swung by the White Home to shake palms and pose for photos with Coolidge.

It was the start of what would ultimately turn into a convention of victorious athletes visiting the president, and it will proceed on Friday when Joe Biden hosts the championship men’s and women’s college basketball teams.

However what began as a nonpartisan ceremony of passage has turn into more and more tangled up in politics, a shift that some peg to Invoice Clinton’s presidency.

Tom Lehman, knowledgeable golfer, declined a White Home invitation and described Clinton as “a draft-dodging child killer.”

“That is actually when it began,” stated Fred Frommer, a former Related Press journalist who has written in regards to the historical past of sports activities and politics.

There have been scattered protests after that — a member of the Baltimore Ravens, for instance, refused to go to with the remainder of his soccer group as a result of President Barack Obama supported abortion rights — however clashes proliferated below President Donald Trump.

When members of the Golden State Warriors instructed they might spurn a White Home go to after successful the NBA title, Trump introduced that the invitation was being withdrawn. Some of the players as a substitute visited the Nationwide Museum of African American Historical past and Tradition with native college students.

Increasingly more athletes began dealing with questions on whether or not they have been prepared to go to the White Home. Frommer, who wrote “You Gotta Have Coronary heart,” a guide about Washington and baseball, stated journeys grew to become “a little bit of a litmus take a look at.”

Biden, who has promised to show down the temperature in Washington, has largely prevented such clashes. However sparks flew in preparation for Friday’s go to with the ladies’s group from Louisiana State.

After the Tigers received the NCAA championship this yr, first woman Jill Biden made an offhand suggestion {that a} second invitation must also be prolonged to the group they defeated, the Iowa Hawkeyes.

LSU star Angel Reese known as the concept “A JOKE” and stated she would reasonably go to with Obama and his spouse, Michelle. The LSU group largely is Black, whereas Iowa’s prime participant, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

“Initially we have been harm. It was emotional for us,” Reese told ESPN in a subsequent interview. “As a result of we all know how arduous we labored all yr for every little thing.”

Nothing got here of the primary woman’s thought, and only the Tigers were invited (and solely champion Connecticut on the boys’s facet) Reese in the end stated she wasn’t going to skip the White Home go to.

“I am a group participant,” Reese stated. “I’ll do what’s greatest for the group.”

Whereas Reese did not flip down the invitation, one other group of champions might be skipping the White Home altogether. Georgia’s soccer group stated it couldn’t make it subsequent month due to a scheduling battle.

Coach Kirby Good insisted that the choice had nothing to do with politics, saying the invitation conflicted with internet hosting a youth camp across the identical time.

However who attends and who does not is carefully watched within the nation’s charged political ambiance.

“Sports activities are politics by different means,” stated Jules Boykoff, a political science professor at Pacific College in Oregon. “Typically it’s totally apparent, and generally it is buried beneath the floor.”

The politicization of White Home visits has overlapped with what Boykoff describes because the “athlete empowerment period.” At a time when the nation has skilled sweeping social actions, equivalent to Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, athletes really feel extra assured utilizing their platforms to share political messages, they usually can use social media as a bullhorn.

“We’re in a brand new period now,” he stated.

Boykoff stated White Home occasions have been as soon as thought-about a “family-friendly photograph alternative,” providing presidents an opportunity to point out their lighter facet. However given the nation’s hyperpolarization, he stated, the custom might ultimately run its course. And athletes might want the platform for themselves.

“It would not be stunning in the event that they present up on the White Home and have one thing to say, perhaps even interrupt the proceedings,” he stated.

Most of those visits have been memorable for extra playful moments.

Harry Carson of the NFL’s New York Giants dumped a bucket of popcorn on President Ronald Reagan’s head in 1987, mimicking their custom of dousing the coach with a Gatorade bucket after a win.

In 2021, Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Joe Kelly confirmed up on the White Home in a mariachi jacket that he received off a musician.

And simply final month, Biden was introduced with a helmet by the Air Drive Academy’s soccer group. The president chuckled.

Along with his job, he stated, “I may have that helmet.”

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