New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett (88) is tackled by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Deji Olatoye (30) in the second quarter during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. / REUTERS

Patriots Players Won't Attend White House Ceremony

New England Patriots players Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty will not be attending the traditional White House ceremony honoring the team’s Super Bowl win.

Defensive back McCourty stated he would not attend and elaborated more on his reasoning via a text message to media members, stating, “I’m not going to the White House. Basic reason for me is I don’t feel accepted in the White House. With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t.”

When asked if he would attend, tight end Bennett responded, “I haven’t thought about it. I am not going to go. I can elaborate later on in life; right now I am just trying to enjoy this … People know how I feel about it, just follow me on Twitter.”

Both Bennett and McCourty are active supporters in the Black Lives Matter Movement and have been vocal on social media concerning the country’s racial climate and President Donald Trump. When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew headlines for taking a knee during the National Anthem, Bennett and McCourty were the only two Patriots players to demonstrate a sign of solidarity, raising their fists during a National Anthem performance in a September game. Both players have said not attending the White House is a personal decision, and that they do not expect blowback or repercussions from the organization, as they avoid discussing politics in the locker room.

“You just don’t bring that to work. We all have our beliefs. We accept people for who they are,” Bennett commented.

Bennett and McCourty are not the first professional athletes to skip a White House visit over political and personal beliefs. Boston Bruins goalie and 2011 Stanley Cup MVP Tim Thomas chose not to visit with teammates in protest of President Obama and the federal government. In 2013, Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk did not attend the White House citing religious reasons, as he disagreed with President Barack Obama’s support of Planned Parenthood. Birk is Catholic and active in pro-life causes.

Athletes across different sports have used their opportunities in the spotlight to focus on racial and political issues particularly basketball players. When Cleveland Cavaliers star forward LeBron James was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year for the second time, he used the honor as a platform to address social justice issues not only in his acceptance speech but also in his photo on the cover of Sports Illustrated. For the photo James wore a safety pin on his shirt. The safety pin has become a silent but important political symbol since the election. According toThe New York Times:

“After the election of Donald J. Trump, fears are growing that segments of his base may physically or emotionally abuse minorities, immigrants, women and members of the L.G.B.T. community. As a show of support, groups of people across America are attaching safety pins to their lapels, shirts and dresses to signify that they are linked, willing to stand up for the vulnerable.”

Leading up to the Super Bowl, much attention was brought to the Trump’s relationships with certain New England Patriots players and personnel. On the campaign trail, Trump brought up New England quarterback Tom Brady in one of his speeches, as well as coach Bill Belichick. Patriots owner and CEO of the Kraft Group, Robert Kraft, is a close personal friend of Trump’s, which may have prompted the references.

Despite this close relationship, time will tell whether more members of the New England Patriots will use the post-Super Bowl White House visit to make a statement.

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