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On Monday, Super Bowl champion and Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty confirmed that he would not accept the customary White House invite for winners of pro football's biggest game, citing political opposition to President Donald Trump.
"I'm not going to the White House," McCourty told TIME via text message. "Basic reason for me is I don't feel accepted in the White House. With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won't."
McCourty is the second Patriots player to take this stance. Tight end Martellus Bennett told reporters shortly after their historic come-from-behind victory on Sunday that he would not attend any ceremony at the White House. When pressed about why, Bennett urged people to check out his social media feed, which includes statements in opposition to Trump policies like the immigration ban that was imposed on seven Muslim-Majority countries before being halted by a federal judge Friday.
It is perhaps not surprising that McCourty and Bennett would be united in their opposition to Trump. They were the only two Patriots players to raise their fists in silent protest while the National Anthem played during the regular NFL season. The act was in solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's similar demonstration, meant to raise awareness about police brutality and racial inequality.
On Monday, in an interview ESPN's "SportsCenter," Bennett, now a free agent, further explained why he would sit out a White House visit. While he said he didn't begrudge any of his teammates for going, his decision was "a personal belief and a personal thing for me."
"Is it a big deal? I think so," he said. "I think for the people I represent and the culture I represent, it's huge."
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So far, no other Patriots players have said they will also refuse a White House invitation. And given their friendly relationships, it's highly unlikely that the team's owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichik and MVP quarterback Tom Brady will skip the ceremony. However, Brady did snub President Obama after the team won the Super Bowl in 2015.
For years, several prominent pro sports stars have sat out White House photo-ops, sometimes citing political reasons, other times mentioning family commitments.
The decision to boycott the White House has become increasingly common as political polarization has grown. During Obama's tenure in the White House, former Chicago Bear Dan Hampton, Baltimore Raven Matt Birk, the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa, and three members of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins all declined his invitations.
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison has the the distinction of having turned down not just Obama in 2009, but President George W. Bush too in 2005.
“This is how I feel — If you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don't win the Super Bowl,” he once told a local affiliate. “As far as I'm concerned, [Obama] would've invited Arizona if they had won.”
Due to Kaepernick's highly publicized protests, there has been increased awareness of athlete activism — from Carmelo Anthony's outspokenness on gun violence to LeBron James' advocacy on behalf of Hillary Clinton. These acts brought back memories for some sports fans of the 1960s heyday of Muhammad Ali's opposition to the Vietnam and John Carlos and Tommie Smith's fists raised demonstration during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
The rise of Donald Trump has also provoked intense reaction in the world of sports, with reports suggesting that in the NFL in particular, divided sentiments about the new president have allegedly exacerbated racial tensions. And Trump's "locker room talk" defense of lewd 2005 comments he made rubbed many athletes the wrong way.
Trump, a yuuuge sports fan himself, has not yet commented on reports of McCourty's and Bennett's snub, but he has suggested that Kaepernick should leave the country because of his criticism of systemic racism.