On a strange day in American sports history, President Donald J. Trump welcomed 34 players from the New England Patriots to The White House. This visit is an American tradition, and a freshly combustible mixture of sports and politics.
It was an uncomfortable day. It was a day that suggested it would be wise for Trump and any other future president, regardless of party, to halt the practice of inviting professional teams to The White House. I understand and support the idea of inviting the winner of the service academy football rivalry - Army, Navy and Air Force - to rejoice alongside their Commander in Chief.
The complications of the pro visits are only going to increase. When the NBA champ is crowned in a few weeks, intense scrutiny will follow the winners. Who will go visit Trump? Who will stay home? Who will speak out for their reasons for boycotting the trip? Who will make up excuses?
Pro teams should think about staying home. And pro owners, if they visit, should think about sticking with sports.
“This year’s championship was achieved after falling behind by 25 points,” said Patriots owner Robert Kraft. “In that same year, a very good friend of mine for over twenty-five years, a man who is mentally tough and hard-working as anyone I know, launched a campaign for the presidency against 16 career politicians facing odds almost as long as we faced.”
Not so long ago, the visits were simple. In 2004, 36 Patriots visited the George W. Bush White House. In 2005, the number fell to 27. In 2015, in a visit to the Obama White House, the number rose to 50 players.
Back then, hardly anyone was keeping count. Back then, politics had yet to become as depressingly divisive as 2017.
Outrage abounded on Wednesday. Some observers wondered how the Patriots could celebrate with Trump on the same day their former teammate Aaron Hernandez had murdered himself by hanging in a jail cell. The Patriots, to a person, declined to talk about the tight end who became a killer.
Tom Brady, ministering to his ill mother, declined to make the visit to The White House. Trump never mentioned him. Neither did Kraft. Neither did anyone. Remember, Brady delivered the finest football performance of the 21st century, and maybe any century, in the victory. Remember, Trump has frequently trumpeted his friendship with Brady.
But no mention of No. 12. It's as if he didn't even play in the game. Strange. Very strange.
But it was strange day.
A good day to consider ending an American tradition.