A Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver, whom Stephen Curry calls a friend, recently shared some of the inner workings of the team’s conversations about whether or not they wanted to go to the White House.
Curry felt heartened listening.
“He broke it down pretty verbatim of how his process went with his discussions with his teammates and how he wanted to keep the focus on what the conversation should be and not the anthem and not Trump's policies and how he's been overshadowing the NFL and all that type of stuff,” Curry said. “So that's refreshing that he's educating people along the way. I think that's important. If you focus on who is saying the right things, you shouldn't get lost in the noise that's going on right now.”
Curry was at the center of a discussion last year similar to what’s surrounding the Eagles now. Long before President Trump disinvited the Eagles from a White House celebration because too small a contingent was attending, he withdrew a similar invitation to the Golden State Warriors after Curry said he didn’t want to go.
A day after Trump took on the Eagles, NBA stars made their position absolutely clear.
“It's typical of him,” Cavaliers forward LeBron James said Tuesday during a media session in advance of Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday. “I don't know. I mean, I know no matter who wins this series, no one wants the invite anyway. So it won't be Golden State or Cleveland going.”
Said Curry: “I hope to be in that situation and win two more games where we win a championship and obviously know what comes with that. But I think I agree with Bron. Pretty sure the way we handled things last year, kind of stay consistent with that.”
Said Warriors forward Kevin Durant: “When somebody says they don't want to come to the White House, he disinvites them so the photo op don't look bad. We get it at this point.”
Said Golden State forward Draymond Green: “I guess everybody gets disinvited. Maybe it's just a tradition that needs to stop if everybody's going to be disinvited.”
In its earlier forms, the tradition was a fun photo opportunity, often with a unifying and apolitical message.
The White House hosted the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals, amateur baseball teams at the time, in 1865 in the aftermath of the Civil War. During the next century, visits by sports teams were sporadic and often tied to some personal preference by the president.
The first NBA champions to visit the White House were the Boston Celtics in 1963, at the invitation of Massachusetts native John F. Kennedy. Ronald Reagan turned it into a yearly affair. Larry Bird declined his invitation in 1984, saying the president knew where to find him. Michael Jordan, who famously stayed away from any potentially polarizing political topics, skipped a White House visit in 1991.
The Green Bay Packers, hated rivals of the Chicago Bears, of whom Barack Obama is a fan, dug at him in 2011 over his not wanting to see the Packers in the White House.
“The president don’t want to come watch us at the Super Bowl — guess what?” Packers defensive back Charles Woodson said in a postgame speech. “We’re going to see him.”
In recent years skipping the visit to the White House has taken on a more political tone. Matt Birk of the Baltimore Ravens declined a visit in 2013 because he disagreed with Obama’s support of Planned Parenthood, citing anti-abortion views.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who displayed a hat supporting Trump in his locker two years ago, skipped a visit during the Obama administration, too.
During the past NFL season, Trump used the issue of whether players would stand for the national anthem as a rallying cry for his base, calling it antimilitary and unpatriotic. He called players who kneeled to protest racial inequalities, especially in the criminal justice system, “sons of bitches.”
The White House statement that disinvited the Super Bowl champions said the Eagles who were planning to skip the visit were doing so because they disagreed with Trump’s belief that they should stand for the national anthem.
Not a single Eagles player kneeled for the anthem during the regular season or postseason.
Former Eagles receiver Torrey Smith said on Twitter: “No one refused to go simply because Trump ‘insists’ folks stand for the anthem.” Their decision, like their protests, centered around Trump’s policies and rhetoric about racial issues. ESPN reported that all of the black players with the Eagles planned to skip the event.
One Eagles player kneeled during the anthem before a preseason game, but did not make the Eagles’ final roster. Eagles Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, both of whom are black, raised fists during the national anthem for part of the year. Chris Long, who is white, put his arm around Jenkins during the demonstration for several games in support.
Jenkins stopped raising his fist once he felt the NFL was paying attention, both symbolically and financially, to causes to help fight social injustice.
Not every player queried was outspoken about the matter. For example, Warriors guard Klay Thompson called the Eagles being disinvited “unfortunate,” but said he preferred to focus on Game 3 of the series, which Golden State leads 2-0.
But those who were maintained the same message they have all season.
“I think the president has made it pretty clear he's going to try to divide us, all of us in this country, for political gain,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “… The irony is that the Eagles have been nothing but fantastic citizens in their own community. They've done so much good. I've read a lot about their team. Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long -- these guys are studs. They're amazing. So it will be nice when we can just get back to normal in three years.”