“Mr. President, this is Jason Kelce.”
Oh, how I’d like to see that introduction and encounter. If only.
Immediately after the big game, the president managed to fire off a tweet that offended no one, except perhaps the New England Patriots and their fans: “Congratulations to the Philadelphia Eagles on a great Super Bowl victory!”
The president was appropriate despite presumably being disappointed that his buddies Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady didn’t win the big game. But it remains to be seen whether the president will invite the Super Bowl champions to the White House, and if so, whether the bulk of the players would attend. I hope he does and they do.
At least four Eagles won’t go if invited. Star safety Malcolm Jenkins, who raised his fist throughout the 2016 season and most of this season in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, told CNN’s Van Jones last Saturday: “When it comes to this presidency, I’m not very excited about getting my picture taken with him. It’s just not worth my time.” Jenkins did say he would “definitely consider” going to the White House if invited to have a substantive conversation about criminal justice reform.
Starting wide receiver Torrey Smith similarly told CNN news anchor Don Lemon that he is one of “plenty of guys who do not plan on going” to visit the president. Defensive end Chris Long, who famously donated his paycheck to charity this season, has also made it known that he’s not interested; he also wasn’t last year as a member of the then-champion Patriots. “Are you kidding me?” Long said on the podcast Pardon My Take. “No, I’m not going to the White House.” LeGarrette Blount also did not go last year as a Patriot and has said he will not go as an Eagle.
And it’s not just the Eagles players. One wonders what would be the RSVP from owner Jeffrey Lurie to an invite from Trump, given that Lurie responded to a Trump tweet saying owners should fire players who protest by taking to the field at Lincoln Financial Field before a September game against the Giants and linking arms with his players. Unlike several other NFL owners, Lurie did not donate to Trump’s inauguration.
If the Eagles players skip the event, it won’t be the first time that politics has interrupted such a celebration.
Tim Thomas, the goalie for the 2011 NHL-champion Boston Bruins, did not attend President Barack Obama’s celebration because he “believed[d] the federal government had grown out of control,” according to a statement he released a few days before the visit. Two years later, Matt Birk, the starting center for the Baltimore Ravens, refused to visit the White House because of Obama’s abortion stance. And when the Chicago Cubs went to the White House during Obama’s final days in office, Jake Arrieta refused to go after tweeting the day after Donald Trump won, “Time for Hollywood to pony up and head for the border #illhelpyoupack #beatit.”
More recently, there was the case of the Golden State Warriors, who won the NBA crown last June. Regardless of the fact that no invitation had been sent from the White House, Steph Curry made clear in September that he would not attend any celebration. Curry told reporters at the Warriors training camp that “by acting and not going, hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country, what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye toward. It’s not just the act of not going. There are things you have to do in the back end that you have to push that message into motion.”
Trump quickly took to Twitter to make clear no invitation was forthcoming:
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
LeBron James then jumped in to defend Curry:
U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017
Needless to say, there was no event for the Warriors in Washington.
I checked with Mark Knoller, the CBS White House correspondent and unofficial keeper of presidential stats, to see whom Trump has hosted thus far. He told me that beyond the Patriots and last year’s Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins, Trump has hosted a handful of NCAA victors, including 2016’s football champs, the Clemson Tigers. And just last week, the MLB-champion Houston Astros accepted the president’s invitation.
Last year, when several Democrats stayed away from Trump’s inauguration, including several from the Philadelphia-area delegation, I argued that members of Congress owed it to the institution of the presidency to show up and participate.
The Eagles are not members of Congress, so I cannot similarly say they are obligated to go. But if they are invited, I hope they will attend. Certain moments call for rising above partisan politics, and an Oval Office encounter is one such milestone. Respect the office if not the president, I say. And when you leave, feel free to walk outside and speak your mind, Messrs. Jenkins, Smith, Long, and Blount.
Just please be sure to cajole Kelce into joining you, preferably in his Mummers regalia. As I said, one can hope.