Rumors are now flying that the brand new NBA champion Golden State Warriors will unanimously refuse to go to the White House to celebrate their title. Several major sites have reported such rumors; many members of the Warriors have criticized Trump personally. Athletes have skipped White House celebrations before: earlier this year, many members of the New England Patriots decided to forego the trip to protest Trump; in 2011, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas refused to visit the White House to meet with President Obama, with Thomas explaining, “I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties and Property of the People.”
Back in 2011, the leftist media ripped Thomas, as Heat Street reports:
Joe McDonald of ESPN wrote “Tim Thomas put himself above the team….When the president of the United States invites you and all your teammates to the White House to honor your Stanley Cup championship, you go and represent the team. On Monday, Thomas instead chose to represent himself.”
James Hardie from Bleacher Report wrote: “If Thomas was a real man, he would have gone to the Boston Bruins management and ownership, returned the money from his contract and quit the balance of it by retiring—so he could exercise his rights as a free citizen.”
Over at Sports Illustrated, Stu Hackel wrote, “[…]Tim Thomas decided to exploit a non-political event to expose his personal political views.”
The temptation on the right to condemn the Patriots for standing against Trump was strong, as well.
Here’s the truth: all of these people have the absolute right not to stand next to a president they don’t like. And actually, we should kill the tradition of winning teams visiting the White House altogether. The presidency is not a ceremonial position. It is an executive one. You wouldn’t expect the local high school regional champs to visit the head of the local water board for a photo op. Why should politicians treat athletes like subjects who must visit the White House at the whim of a monarch?
None of this used to be a big deal. According to ESPN, the first sports teams to visit the White House were the Brooklyn Athlantics and Washington Nationals back in 1865; the first World Series team champions to visit the White House were the Washington Senators in 1924. But both of those visits were by local teams. The first NBA champions to visit the White House were the Boston Celtics in 1963; the first NCAA champions to show up came in 1976. But, reports ESPN, “It was Ronald Reagan, however, who made the practice of honoring championship teams at the White House a regular occurrence.”
Whoever invented the practice, it should die a quick and painless death. There’s nothing dumber than athletes coming to pay homage to a president who doesn’t watch their sport (see, e.g., the WNBA champions, who show up every year to meet with some dude who has never seen a game). And there’s something oligarchic about the national expectation that sports champions must receive the blessing of the president of the United States.
Separating the president from the sporting scene would also prevent the infusion of politics into sports. If we don’t want athletes getting political, the easiest way to avoid that eventuality is to prevent politicians from trying to co-opt athletic popularity.