How often have athletes snubbed invitations to the White House?

Published 8:42 am Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The routine is familiar. The president makes a few bad jokes. The championship-winning team presents the leader of the free world with a personalized jersey. Everyone smiles for the cameras.

Nothing political about that, right?

Not exactly.

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In a divided nation, everything is political.

While presidents have been snubbed before, six players from the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots took it to another level by preemptively turning down an expected invitation from President Trump.

Rest assured, they won’t be the last to mix sports and politics.

“The balance of power in professional sports now rests more with the performers than the owners,” said Stephen Mosher, a professor of sports management and media at Ithaca College. “Without a labor force, (Patriots owner) Robert Kraft has nothing but an empty stadium. He has to let his employees make these political statements if he wants to win. He has to. There’s too many different political views held by players in the National Football League.

“Actually,” Mosher added, “I think it’s quite refreshing.”

The Patriots were part of the political discourse even before they dramatically rallied from 25 points down to beat the Atlanta Falcons in the first Super Bowl to go to overtime.

Kraft is a friend of the 45th president, and quarterback Tom Brady drew plenty of scrutiny when one of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” caps was spotted in his locker at the start of the contentious presidential campaign.

Then, with the Patriots still in the midst of their Super Bowl celebration, tight end Martellus Bennett made it clear he had no intention of visiting Trump’s White House.

Five teammates — defensive back Devin McCourty, running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive end Chris Long, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive tackle Alan Branch — quickly followed suit. Most pinned their decision on political differences with the Republican administration.

Significant, to be sure.

But nothing new.