By Haley Sylvester and Spencer Bergholtz
The New England Patriots have sparked controversy across the nation this month, with several players coming forward to say that they will not be joining their team for a visit to the White House following their historical Superbowl win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Feb. 2.
In an appearance on the Today show, Patriots owner Robert Kraft noted that each time they have had the privilege to go to the White House, a dozen players don’t — but that this is the first time the issue has gotten any significant media attention. “You know,” Kraft said in his appearance, “some of the players have the privilege of going in college because they’re on National Championship teams, others have family commitments. But this is America. We’re all free to do whatever’s best for us. We’re just privileged to be in a position to be going.”
In 2015 after the Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the Superbowl, Tom Brady skipped the White House visit for “personal reasons.” This year, however, he has made it a point to advertise that he will be in attendance to support his personal friend, Donald Trump. Following the Patriots win on Feb. 2, President Trump tweeted, “What an amazing comeback and win by the Patriots. Tom Brady, Bob Kraft, and Coach B are total winners. Wow!”
Following Donald Trump’s presidential victory, he claimed that Brady and Kraft called to congratulate him. While he did not deny it, Brady played down the claim during an interview by stating, “I call a lot of people.”
Others players on the team, however, do not have such a close relationship with President Trump. Safety Devin McCourty announced a day after the Superbowl that he would not be attending. He has explicitly stated that the basic reason is because he does not feel accepted in the White House.
McCourty believes that with Trump’s strong opinions and prejudices, certain people may feel accepted, while others do not. He is the second among six players who are adamant about not attending. These include defensive-end Chris Long, running-back LeGarrette Blount, defensive-tackle Alan Branch, line-backer Dont’a Hightower and tight-end Martellus Bennett. Bennett said he would not be making the trip because he didn’t support “the guy that’s in the House.”
On Tuesday, Feb. 14, Brady told PFT Live (via Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith) that teammates must make their own decisions on whether or not to attend. “Everybody has their own choice,” Brady said. “There’s certain years, like a couple years ago, I wanted to go and didn’t get the opportunity based on the schedule — we didn’t get told until I think like 10 days before we were going and at that point I had something I’d been planning for months and couldn’t get there.”
Second-year tight-end and fullback on the UMaine football team Julian Dunn believes that since the Patriots are paid athletes, they should have a choice whether or not they attend the White House visit. “Some players may not agree on some of the viewpoints of the president. If I were in their position, I would go because that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and it’s not guaranteed every year,” Dunn said.
Branch and Hightower claim their reasons for not attending are personal and non-political, while Long, Blount and Bennett have simply said they do not feel welcomed by President Trump. These Patriots are participating in an increasingly popular tradition of opting out of White House visits. Other recent examples include pitcher Jake Arrieta, who did not visit the White House with the Chicago Cubs when President Barack Obama was in office, citing non-political, family reasons. Tim Thomas, a noted member of the Tea Party, did not visit the White House with the Boston Bruins in 2011. Matt Birk skipped the visit in 2013 with the Baltimore Ravens, citing Obama’s support of Planned Parenthood.
Former UMaine linebacker Trevor Bates was picked in the seventh round of the NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts in 2016. He signed his rookie contract with them on May 5 and was released Oct. 13. On Nov. 7, Bates signed with the Patriots practice squad. Following the Patriots Superbowl win over the Falcons on Feb. 2, Bates signed a futures contract with the Patriots on Feb. 7.
As a UMaine alumni and now a New England Patriot, Bates weighed in/ “I’ll be in attendance, that is tradition and something that we get the opportunity to do that most people will never experience. I don’t let all my political views and all that stuff get in the way. It should be an awesome time, it’s history.”
When asked about the effect of players such as Bennett and McCourty not attending, Bates explained that he doesn’t believe their decision will influence others on the team, nor will it cause any tension among teammates in the locker room. “Everyone should respect everyone’s own situation. If they don’t feel like they have to go, they don’t have to. It shouldn’t be an issue with the team or any of the players.”