The New England Patriots visited the White House on Wednesday, as is tradition, to celebrate their Super Bowl LI victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Soon after that game, several prominent Patriots players — including Martellus Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, Devin McCourty, and Alan Branch — specifically said that they would not go because of President Donald Trump.
True to their word, they didn’t go. Neither did Tom Brady, who cited a personal reason, just like when he missed the trip two years ago during President Barack Obama’s term.
After the team met with Trump, the size of the turnout drew comparisons to when the Patriots visited Obama’s White House (not unlike the presidents’ respective inaugurations):
Patriots' turnout for President Obama in 2015 vs. Patriots' turnout for President Trump today: https://t.co/OxMEOqZonI pic.twitter.com/pLmJWhOw1j— NYT Sports (@NYTSports) April 19, 2017
The Patriots responded to the tweet four hours later:
These photos lack context. Facts: In 2015, over 40 football staff were on the stairs. In 2017, they were seated on the South Lawn. https://t.co/iIYtV0hR6Y— New England Patriots (@Patriots) April 20, 2017
The Patriots doubled down on this, but with a photo from George W. Bush’s term, “the last time the Patriots won two Super Bowls in three years.”
Comparable photos: The last time the #Patriots won two Super Bowls in three years, 36 players visited the White House. Today, we had 34. pic.twitter.com/Aslvf1RaXU— New England Patriots (@Patriots) April 20, 2017
In the article linked by the New York Times, Patriots spokesman Stacey James says that the size of the Patriots delegation for each White House trip over the years has been the same, which isn’t exactly accurate:
#Patriots have 115-120 people here @WhiteHouse - Players thru years:— Dan Roche (@RochieWBZ) April 19, 2017
2002 - 50-plus
2004 - 36
2005 - 27
2015 - around 50
2017 - 34#wbz
To be fair, when teams win championships as often as the Patriots, a trip to the White House might not have the same distinction as it would otherwise.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter how many Patriots went to the White House on Wednesday. This time around, it matters why so many didn’t. The number of players not attending because of the president, and vocally doing so, is unprecedented.
Devin McCourty told Time Magazine, “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.”
Prior to the Super Bowl when asked if he’d attend, Martellus Bennett told reporters he wouldn’t. “I don’t support the guy that’s in the (White) House,” he said. After the game, Bennett confirmed just that.
Alan Branch initially told reporters he would be staying to spend time with his family, but revealed to the Boston Globe he decided to stay because of sexist remarks made in the past by the president.
Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, and Brady have all admitted to being friends with Trump, so the Patriots feeling the need to combat the photo isn’t a surprise. But the real context isn’t a side-by-side photo. It’s the players who are missing, and the reason they stayed home.