New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft weighs in on players' decision to skip White House visit
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft weighed in on the decision by several of his players to skip the traditional White House visit this year after winning the Super Bowl, saying he didn't see it as anything out of the ordinary.
"Every time we've had the privilege of going to the White House, a dozen of our players don't go,'' Kraft said on TODAY Monday. "This is the first time it's gotten any media attention."
"Some of the players have the privilege of going in college because they're on national championship teams, (and) others have family commitments,'' he added.
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"This is America, we're all free to do whatever's best for us, and we're just privileged to be in a position to be going."
Super Bowl teams have been visiting the White House since 1980, when the Pittsburgh Steelers brought the Lombardi Trophy to President Jimmy Carter in a joint event with the World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates, according to ESPN.
This year, at least six Patriots have said they will skip the ceremony: defensive back Devin McCourty, running back LeGarrette Blount, tight end Martellus Bennett, defensive end Chris Long, defensive tackle Alan Branch and linebacker Dont'a Hightower, according to reports and social media.
Super Bowl hero James White, who had three touchdowns, also said he is considering not going.
Some of the players said they were skipping the event because they disagreed with President Trump — McCourty told Time he didn't "feel accepted in the White House" — while others cited different reasons, including family.
"Been there, done that," Hightower said, according to ESPN. The linebacker, who also sat out the team's 2015 visit, went to the White House in college when he played for Alabama.
Kraft has a longtime relationship with President Donald Trump, who also counts Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and star quarterback Tom Brady as supporters and friends.
New England's win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 marked their fifth title in the past 16 seasons, and this is not the first case of players skipping a meeting with the president.
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Brady skipped the White House trip with President Obama in 2015, citing a scheduling conflict.
And NFL-wide, high profile players declining to attend is not uncommon. Quarterback Brock Osweiler skipped the Denver Broncos' visit last year to be with his new teammates after signing with the Houston Texans.
Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Matt Birk did not go in 2013 because he disagreed with Obama's pro-choice stance, and Steelers linebacker James Harrison stayed home in 2006 and 2009.
Players from other championship teams, including Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, have also decided not to attend over the years.