Congratulations! Your team has just won a major sports championship. This victory will come with a plethora of spoils. There’s the victory parade, the late-night talk show appearances, and the sense of unshakeable personal satisfaction. That’s the good news.
There’s also some bad news. Becoming an American sports icon comes with a pesky little piece of baggage. Your team will likely be invited to be honored by the President of the United States at the White House. You must choose if you’ll attend the festivities.
There are several ways to handle this:
- Attend and publicly endorse the sitting president while deriding teammates who decline for political reasons.
- Attend and publicly endorse the sitting president without criticizing teammates who decline for political reasons.
- Attend without offering comment on the sitting president or any political topic.
- Attend while offering that your attendance is not an endorsement
- Don’t say anything at all and show up the day-of.
- Decline while expressing that your absence isn’t is motivated by an opinion of the sitting president or any political topic.
- Don’t say anything and decline to show up the day-of.
- Decline without offering comment on the sitting president or political topic.
- Decline and criticize the politics of the sitting president without criticizing teammates who do attend.
- Decline and criticize both the sitting president and teammates who do attend.
Seems a bit overwhelming doesn’t it? With so many routes to explore, how can one know which is best?
Take a deep breath. The answer is actually quite simple.
They are all okay!
Sure, some options will come with more blowback than others, but who cares? You’re a professional athlete used to being excoriated over trivial things like missed free throws or red-zone fumbles. You have thick skin and can handle it.
Do not listen to the masses who want to turn this glorified photo op as some grand political war in which you must choose a side. The dirty little secret buried by feverish debate is that there is no universal “right answer.” The right answer is different for each and every invited party.
It’s a personal choice that demands a personal decision. You only have to answer to one person: yourself. Reasonable people will respect any decision you make. Those who don’t? Forget about them.
Some of your teammates may be offended by your choice. Remember these are the same people you worked with to accomplish your loftiest goals. You’ve already overcome differences of the vocational and ideological variety and emerged unscathed. You may be offended by some of your teammates’ choice. Again, remember that you’ve already overcome differences of the vocational and ideological variety and emerged unscathed.
This is nothing.
A White House fete to honor champions has always been about the visitors to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., not the man welcoming them in. This is supposed to be your day, not his. It is supposed to be an award, not a chore to be done in the face of public criticism. And that, sadly, is what it’s become.
A certain faction of people are going to disagree with whatever you do, so you might as well follow your heart. Perhaps it will give you confidence to know that the White House visit was never intended to be a Rorschach political test nor is it entirely important. Only in recent years has the practice become so scrutinized — thanks largely in part to inequitable coverage.
Visiting the White House and politely laughing at the president’s jokes is not a hallowed tradition but something that’s always been more honored in breach than observance.
So relax. Make a decision and go with it. The sports calendar will continue to flip and soon another team will be invited to our nation’s capital. Then the will-they or won’t-they will begin anew.