When — if Ever — Will the Super Bowl Champion Eagles Visit the White House?

When — if Ever — Will the Super Bowl Champion Eagles Visit the White House?

Rodney McLeod, Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long of the Eagles during the national anthem before a game last season.
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Springtime in Washington usually brings the blooming of cherry blossom trees and a White House visit from the Super Bowl champions. Peak bloom happened weeks ago, but there’s still no sign of the Philadelphia Eagles, the N.F.L.’s current titleholders.

Nearly three months after they won their first Super Bowl title, the Eagles have not announced details of a White House visit, raising questions about whether many members of the team, which has one of the most liberal owners in the N.F.L. and several prominent players who have said they oppose President Trump’s policies, want to be seen shaking hands with the president.

A visit is being planned, a White House spokeswoman said on Monday.

“We have been in conversations with the Eagles about timing and are working with them to make it happen,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. “We hope to have something finalized in the next couple of weeks.”

The league turned into a political piñata last year after the president lambasted the league for not forcing players to stand for the national anthem. The attacks prompted some fans to walk out of stadiums because of the protests by players, who were trying to highlight social injustice and police brutality against African-Americans.

The Eagles are the first team to win the Super Bowl since Mr. Trump first attacked the league last September, when he referred generically to a protesting player as “son of a bitch,” and urged owners to fire players who did not stand for the anthem. His comments escalated the issue of protests into a roiling national debate and, for several weeks, inspired more players to protest.

“We have been in contact with White House representatives and are currently discussing the logistics of an upcoming visit to Washington,” a spokesman for the Eagles said on Monday, acknowledging publicly for the first time that the team had been invited. “We are honored to receive this invitation and view this not only as an opportunity to be recognized for our on-field accomplishments, but also as an opportunity to engage in productive dialogue with the leaders of our country.”

There is no formal routine for the scheduling of White House visits, though most Super Bowl winners receive an invitation soon after the game, and visits are common in March or April, when players are together but their schedules are not as hectic as they would be during the season. Last year, the New England Patriots went to the White House on April 19.

Some teams choose to visit the White House later in the year, particularly if they can combine it with a trip to play against the Redskins or the Ravens, who are based near Washington.

The Eagles will probably have several prominent no-shows if the team makes the trip from Philadelphia. After their victory over the Patriots in February, some top players, including safety Malcolm Jenkins, defensive lineman Chris Long and wide receiver Torrey Smith, said they would not visit the White House if invited.

In an interview on CNN, Mr. Smith said he would not go to a party if the host were a sexist or a racist or insulted his friends. “So why is it any different when this person has the title of president of the United States?” he said. “It’s really that simple to me. I don’t think it’s really something that I personally feel inclined to be involved with.”

Jeffrey Lurie, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. He called the Trump presidency “disastrous” in a private meeting with players and league executives.
Chad Batka for The New York Times

Mr. Smith added that there were “plenty of guys who said they do not plan on going” to the White House, a tradition that became an annual event during Ronald Reagan’s presidency more than three decades ago.

Two members of the Eagles, Mr. Long and LeGarrette Blount, declined to visit the White House last year when they were with the Patriots.

The Eagles’ owner, Jeffrey Lurie, is considered one of the most liberal in the league, and he is sympathetic to what Mr. Jenkins and other players have been trying to achieve. Long before he bought the team, he earned a doctoral degree in social policy and lectured on topics like incarceration rates. In the lobby at the Eagles’ training complex, he put large photos of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Jonas Salk, rather than sepia-tone images of the team’s best former players, to remind visitors of the team’s higher mission.

Mr. Lurie openly supported Mr. Jenkins and other players who have protested, though he encouraged them to hone their message and not be sidetracked by people accusing them of being unpatriotic.

According to the Federal Election Commission, in 2015, Mr. Lurie donated $2,700 to Hillary for America, a group supporting Hillary Clinton, as well as to the N.F.L. political action committee.

Mr. Lurie has also made his political leanings known in private league meetings, including last October at N.F.L. headquarters. Weeks after Mr. Trump attacked the league, several dozen owners, players and league executives met to discuss a plan to donate money to an array of groups fighting social injustice. At one point, a player said that it was difficult to trust the owners because they supported Mr. Trump.

Mr. Lurie took exception.

“Another fact I want to throw out there: Many of us have no interest in supporting President Trump,” Mr. Lurie said, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by The New York Times. “Yes, there are some. There are some players who do, too.”

“But this is not where you brandish a group of people because they own assets in a sport we love, supporting what many of us perceive as, you know, one disastrous presidency,” he said, using a vulgarity to emphasize “disastrous,” then adding, “Don’t quote me.”

The Trump White House has been the source of tension with other sports teams. In September, after Stephen Curry of the N.B.A. champion Golden State Warriors said that he and his teammates were considering a boycott of the visit, Mr. Trump announced that the team would not be invited.

The history of sports teams visiting the White House dates to the 19th century, when baseball teams were invited. President Jimmy Carter is believed to be the first to invite an N.F.L. team, when he welcomed the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1980. The visits became a yearly tradition during the Reagan administration, and nearly every Super Bowl champion since then has received an invitation.

The few exceptions include the Giants, in 1991, who did not go because of the first Gulf War, and the Denver Broncos in 1999, presumably because President Bill Clinton was embroiled in impeachment proceedings.

Published at Mon, 23 Apr 2018 23:11:52 +0000

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