By Nick Forbes Asst. sports editor
Courtesy of Sports Information
96. That is roughly the number of sports teams that have visited the White House during President Barack Obama’s administration. This includes the champions of the four major sports in America, as well as college teams and various other athletes.
1981. The year when team visits to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue officially became a tradition thanks to avid sports fan, Ronald Reagan. Or even further back to 1865, when President Andrew Johnson welcomed amateur baseball clubs the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals to the White House.
Sports and politics have grown increasingly close over the past few decades. In fact, we’ve seen sports have a growingly prominent role in nearly every aspect of American life.
With an ever-expanding national platform, athletes have taken advantage of their celebrity, using that platform to take stands, promote ideas and demonstrate protests that inevitably start hard conversations in America.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics, Muhammad Ali tearing up his draft card, the St. Louis Rams running out of the tunnel with the “hands up, don’t shoot,” gesture are among many of the sports protests that have sparked significant change in our country.
Athletes have turned down invitations to the White House too. Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk did not attend the team’s visit after their Super Bowl win because he disagreed with Obama’s support of Planned Parenthood.
However, team visits to the White House show that some of the most famous men and women in America stand behind our president.
In a way, it humanizes the president—a man who is in the critical eye of the public 24/7. But now we enter a new era. The era of President Donald Trump.
And like much of Trump’s young presidency, a lot is unknown about how the sports world, and the annual White House visits, will proceed.
It’s not a secret that Trump is a controversial public figure. He won the election against tremendous odds and was inaugurated with the lowest approval rating of any president in U.S. history. No living, former president voted for him. His speeches, actions and legislation have drawn criticisms for being “racist,” “sexist” and “Islamaphobic.”
In fact, only 8 percent of African-American voters voted for Donald Trump, and no minority race had more than 37 percent vote for Trump.
Well why does this matter when we talk about sports? Look at it this way—in the NBA in 2015, 74.4 percent of players were African-American. Nearly 70 percent of all NFL and NCAA football players are African- American. In the MLB, 29.3 percent of players are of Latino descent, and Trump has repeatedly pushed for building a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
Trump has created divisions so deep in these leagues that a Bleacher Report straw poll held before the election found that 20 out of 22 black NFL players planned to vote for Hillary Clinton, while 21 out of 21 white NFL players planned to vote for Trump.
So imagine what happens when the next team wins the Super Bowl, NBA finals or World Series.
What happens when the man who cuts funding to Planned Parenthood and plans to ban abortions invites the NCAA women’s basketball champion team to his place of business? Surely you can’t expect the peaceful, laid-back visits we are used to seeing.
No. We’re going to start seeing players publicly deny the invitations. We’re going to see half of a team show up to the White House.
I wouldn’t even be surprised if entire teams declined the chance to visit with Donald Trump.
Trump has already done more in his first few weeks as president than any of his predecessors, and not in a good way. He has waged war on free speech, free press and, in a way, waged war directly against the Constitution of the United States.
We have already seen mass protests against the views and legislation of Donald Trump. The Women’s March recorded 600,000 participants in Washington D.C. alone, not to mention hundreds of other cities across the world who participated.
As Trump continues to march on, he shows no sign of slowing the quantity of controversial legislation he is willing to push. And as Trump supporters dwindle—and they are—the protests are slowly growing toward a crescendo.
Athletes have already had their say about Donald Trump, and they’ve been anything but shy. But the biggest stage now is not a packed stadium in Houston in front of millions of people.
Rather, the biggest stage now are those front steps of the White House, and the stage is set for sports and politics to collide like they never have before.
The sports shots of The Quill reflect the views of individual members of the editorial board. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire editorial board or of the university. The content of the Sports pages is the responsibility of the editor in chief and the Sports editor.