The Revolution Will Barely Be Televised

What does it mean that 34 players skipped the White House visit?

In the weeks following Super Bowl LI six New England Patriot players, Chris Long, Devin McCourty, Alan Branch, Martellus Bennett, Dontá Hightower, and Lagarrette Blount indicated that they would be skipping the ceremonial White House visit, taking a stand against the Trump Administration. The response was predictably mixed with fans on the left celebrating their bravery, and many on the right labeling them as unpatriotic. The controversy was heightened by the relationships with Trump maintained by Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Pats owner Robert Kraft. Players opting out of the visit were not only perceived as snubbing the President, but potentially their boss, and their employer.

April 19th, the day of the visit was marked by tragedy. It was reported that morning that former Pats tight end, Aaron Hernandez, committed suicide in prison. In the hours before the event Tom Brady announced that he would not be attending, citing a “family issue” and sent a note thanking the President for his continued support of the team. It was also reported that 34 Pats players had skipped the trip to the White House. Missing from the news of the day was any discussion of the motivations of the 33 players, not named Tom Brady.

Reports vary on the total number of players invited, but estimates range between 64 and 68. If the number was 68 then half the Patriots opted out. The Patriots front office and some media sources were quick to point out that although 50 Patriots visited Barack Obama in 2015, only 36 visited George W. Bush in 2005. Those reports failed to mention that all but 4 Denver Broncos made the trip last year, and that 2005 was pre Obama (45s favorite measuring stick). Photos of the Seahawks in 2015 show a packed stage as well. On the topic of photos, The New York Times juxtaposed the Patriots 2017 and 2015 photos which showed a shocking difference. The Patriots quickly retorted that the photos were published without context. The 2015 photo included support staff which accentuated the attendance disparity. And with that, the entire story was effectively dismissed as fake news.

Here’s some additional “context.” Donald Trump is the least popular president in American history after 100 days. Despite Trump’s personal friendship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick’s enthusiastic support, and Trump’s widely discussed hyper obsession with crowd size and attendance, 34 players elected not to attend. Six declined his invitation immediately. Tom Brady expressed regrets, Danny Amendola, who Trump awkwardly sought out from the podium, was attending a funeral. Of the remaining 28 players 25 are African American. Five of the original six declining the invitation are black. This is important, not to suggest a racial schism among the Patriots, but to illustrate that the makeup of the abstainers is consistent with what we know about race and Trump’s support nationally, therefore strongly suggesting the existence of political motivation. This is an obvious point, one that major news and media outlets seem to be ignoring. There were articles speculating whether Tom Brady’s wife forbade him to visit Trump, yet serious discussion of the political significance of a group of overwhelmingly black players staying home is virtually nonexistent.

The coverage of Colin Kaepernick’s protest against the murder and brutalization of unarmed blacks by American police officers provides a parallel. Kaepernick’s individual protest was covered extensively. However as other players joined, the coverage decreased. During game broadcasts, networks treated the protests the same way they treat interlopers that run onto the field. They ignored them, leaning on more pans of the crowd and super wide shots during the national anthem, rather than closeups of players on the sidelines. Over the course of the season, more than 30 players joined Kaepernick in protest, nearly all of them African American. Yet the coverage was limited to one player, who now finds himself without a team. An individual can be dismissed as a quirky, misguided, ungrateful millionaire. 35 players suggest a movement.

Prior to the visit, My friends and I created a video called StandingPats (Be Patriots) supporting the Patriots players not going to the White House. People from all over, including fans of other teams and folks who are not football fans at all, took the time to share the piece and express solidarity. Supporting players taking a stand means not allowing that stand to be ignored. Thirty four New England Patriots chose not to visit Trump despite the known political disposition of their employer, and the hypersensitivity of the President. This is a big deal and it warrants discussion.