Players Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount and Torrey Smith, from the Philadelphia Eagles, say they will not be attending the customary White House visit after their victory over New England Patriots at Super Bowl LII on Sunday. This is the Eagles’ 4th NFL title, and their only win since 1960.
According to safety Jenkins who spoke with CNN’s New Day, the decision is in line with a personal long-standing protest for change in the lives of people of color in the U.S. “I personally do not anticipate attending that”, Jenkins said referring to the White House visit.
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“My message has been clear all year. I’m about, you know, creating positive change in the communities that I come from, whether it be Philadelphia, New Jersey, Ohio, Louisiana, or this entire country. I want to see changes in our criminal justice system. I want to see us push for economic and educational advancement in communities of color and low-income communities. And I want to see our relationships between our communities and our law enforcement be advanced,” Jenkins explained.
Sports & The Traditional White House Visit
Championship teams being invited to the White House has been a long-standing tradition in the U.S. and the Eagles players will not be the first to decline the iconic team championship photo-op with the U.S. president.
Retired basketball legend, Michael Jordan, declined a visit to the White House in 1991 with then-President George H.W. Bush because he was on vacation with his family. Jordan said the following to Ludington Daily News after being criticized for the move:
“As you know, my schedules have been very hectic. You guys have seen me, I’ve been every which way, and because I choose to take my private three days somewhere no one can call me. It’s my prerogative. How can I be disrespecting the president when I choose to spend time with my family?”
Other reasons pro-athletes have turned down the White House invitation include non-interest and politics. Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk refused to visit President Obama in 2013 citing that he did not agree with the president on the issue of abortion.
Jenkins, Long, Blount and Smith’s recoil from the invitation reveals a growing overlap of sports, politics, and activism. Last year, more than two dozen players declined the White House visit when the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl. Many cited political reasons, with then Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount saying, “I don’t feel welcome in that house.”
The NFL has been at fore of the debate about sports and activism with current free agent and quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparking national debate and outrage in late 2016 when he knelt during the national anthem.
U.S. President Donald Trump has been especially critical of athlete protests, going as far as calling on managers and owners to fire players who protest the national anthem.
Trump wishes NFL owners would tell anthem protesters “get that son of a bitch off the field right now” pic.twitter.com/gq4EH3lNoY
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) September 23, 2017
Trump and other media figures have rather advised athletes to “stick to sports”, a commentary that is clearly not sitting well with athletes.
As Eagles wide receiver Smith explained last week during a pre-Super Bowl media event:
We read the news just like everyone else. You see Donald Trump tweet something … We have those conversations in the locker room, just like everyone else does in the workplace. We’re very informed about what goes on, and we’re trying to continue to educate ourselves. It’s pretty special to have a group like that of folks that aren’t just socially conscious, but folks who genuinely care about people and care about learning more. I’m not saying we’re right about everything, but we’re willing to figure out what is right. We’re willing to work with people to find the best way to move forward, because there are problems and we’re not shy about speaking up about them.