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A presidential honor

There are few pastimes more American than sports. Sports fandom has the ability to bring immense joy, overwhelming sadness and everything in between. Sports traditions are deeply ingrained in this country’s history for a number of reasons, but one has always stood out to me for its peculiarity: the White House visit.

The tradition started on Aug. 30, 1865, when President Andrew Johnson welcomed the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals amateur baseball clubs. In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant hosted the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, and in 1924 the Washington Senators visited the White House in honor of their World Series championship. President Ronald Reagan would go on to champion this event, making it a regular and theatrical occurrence that the media was expected to cover.

The 2000s saw relatively few hiccups for the tradition, with sports lovers President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama embracing the lineage of the event with open arms.
Then came the 2017 NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors. Touted as one of the greatest basketball teams to ever play the sport, the team, led by the likes of social activist Steve Kerr, announced they would not be visiting the White House. Thinking on his feet, with the logic of the brilliant strategist that he is, Trump’s response was simple: he said he never invited them in the first place. The ordeal was followed with one of my favorite tweets of all time, by none other than Lebron James:

“U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

Well said, Lebron.
The tweet received over 1.4 million likes and almost 600k retweets. Sports fans agreed and disagreed with the sentiment. Very few found themselves in between. It’s true, for the first time in history, an entire team decided to not make the visit out of principle. Yes, in years past certain players have skipped out on the trip citing logical complications or political disagreement, such as Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and Larry Bird, but never before had a team as high profile as the Warriors made such a dramatic scene to reject the offer entirely.

The NBA has yet to send their champion to D.C. since Trump’s inauguration, while some sports like Major League baseball have made the visit all three years.
In the Trump era, there have been more than a few memorable White House visits. My personal favorite is the 2019 Clemson team, who were served a buffet of McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King instead of the usual fine dining, a change that Trump in part attributed to the government shutdown.

Another great visit was the most recent college football national champion Louisiana State University, where we saw Trump intimately congratulate a perspiring Joe Burrow who looked more nervous than he did during the national championship. It was the most uncomfortable I’ve seen a person in my entire life, which is something I cannot say about any visitor from the 2019 Washington Nationals. During the Nationals’ visit last November, Kurt Suzuki wore a MAGA hat and was held from behind by Trump Titanic-style, smiling ear to ear. As a progressive Asian-American baseball fan, this was my Vietnam.
While the White House visits during the Trump era have been at times difficult and at others cringeworthy, they have also been greatly entertaining. It no longer comes as a surprise when a team decides to protest the celebratory event, and much like the country’s current political spectrum, the visits have become polarizing and chaotic in nature. As someone who takes pride in being upset about meaningless sports gestures, I will continue to passionately follow the tradition and its greatly American nature, no matter the president or their political affiliation.

tan2@stolaf.edu