While championship teams being invited to the White House is a long-standing tradition, players opting out is becoming an even bigger one and it is going to lead to a big change in how the ceremony is handled.
Athletes turning down the invitation to the White House is not. A few of the more notable recent examples include:
Pitcher Jake Arrieta, a noted Trump supporter, did not visit the White Houserecently with the Chicago Cubs when Barack Obama was still in office. Tim Thomas, a noted member of the Tea Party, did not visit the White House with the Boston Bruins in 2011. Matt Birk in 2013 skipped the visit with the Baltimore Ravens, citing the Obama's support of Planned Parenthood. Even Tom Brady skipped the White House visit with the Patriots in 2015.
However, in the past, most players avoided the controversy by saying their decision to go was based on other factors, such as a scheduling conflict, or family commitments.
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But that tone seems to be changing because of who is in the White House now and because of the state of division in the country. And like Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem, now that other players are doing it and are not being shy about the reason, it will further embolden more players to do the same.
In other words, this is going to become far more common, and that is a problem for the leagues, the teams, and the White House. What was once a great tradition, is becoming more about who is not going than it is about who is going.
While some feel players have an obligation to go, teams can't force the players to attend. So how do they fix increasingly negative optics? Well, there is actually a simple solution that is almost certainly going to happen eventually and it will change the tradition forever.
Instead of the White House inviting an entire team, the White House will ask teams to select players for "the honor of visiting the White House."
Maybe teams will select five players, or ten, or even 30. Maybe they will select the entire team. It doesn't really matter. The point will be to make it look like players are being honored with selection. But in reality, the key is to simply invite only the players who actually want to go.
When that happens, players like Bennett and McCourty and Thomas and Arrieta can no longer "skip" the visit. They can't opt out of something they are not invited to.
Under this scenario, the focus is back on who is actually going and representing the team, and the story is no longer about who is protesting the president, no matter who is sitting in the Oval Office.