It's tradition for the team that wins the Super Bowl to visit the White House after their victory. But at least five members of the New England Patriots are turning down the invitation this year because of President Donald Trump.
"I'm not going to the White House," the Patriots' Devin McCourty told Time in a text message Monday. "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."
McCourty joined tight end Martellus Bennett, who confirmed on Super Bowl Sunday that he also would not make the White House trip, after first announcing his decision to skip it the week prior.
"It is what it is," Bennett said after the Patriots' victory, according to the Dallas Morning News. "People know how I feel about it." Bennett has previously told reporters, "I don't support the guy in the [White House]."
Defensive end Dont'a Hightower said Wednesday that he won't make the White House trip either, though his decision wasn't an explicit protest. Then on Thursday, three more players — LeGarrette Blount, Alan Branch and Chris Long (the only white player of the group) — joined the protest as well.
These players' decision to refuse an invite from the president diverges sharply from their organization's most prominent white members. Quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft are all good friends with Trump. In late 2015, Brady was filmed with Trump's signature "Make America Great Again" in his locker.
Bennet and McCourty have engaged in political demonstrations before. They made headlines in October when they expressed solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was protesting police violence against black people at the time by kneeling during the national anthem before games. The two Patriots players raised their fists in support during the song.
The political overtones of Sunday's game were apparent well before Bennett and McCourty's announcements. Many viewers had already read the match-up between the Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons as a proxy for the white establishment — headed by President Trump — versus the scrappy minority underdogs.
But what was symbolic has now become literal. Five players are protesting the Trump White House. It's a small demonstration now, but as the visit draws closer, it will be seen whether more players join them.
Feb. 10, 2017, 9:29 a.m.: This post has been updated.