The announcement showed up on the White House’s official website and YouTube channel on Thursday morning, tucked between notifications about a medical billing statement and a vice-presidential speech:
“President Trump Welcomes the 2018 World Series Champions The Boston Red Socks to the White House.”
Not “Red Sox.” Red Socks. Sure, the error was corrected shortly after 9 a.m. ET. And whatever, it’s a typo, everyone makes mistakes. But it was yet another example of how athlete visits have become the greatest low-stakes, high-entertainment theater the White House has to offer.
Fast food doled out to college teams. A strange fondling of a Baylor women’s basketball uniform. A peculiar presidential invitation for NASCAR champion Joey Logano to come to the Lincoln Bedroom. Twitter spats with NBA champions. And protests — so many, many protests.
What will Trump do next?
There was a time when champions’ visits to the White House followed a simple, predictable pattern: the team stood and smiled behind the president, who served up a few canned jokes and maybe tossed a ball with one of the players. The president would hold up a jersey with his name on it, everyone would smile and clap, and then we’d all go on with our lives.
Seems like forever ago, doesn’t it? Now, you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen. Will President Trump stick with his prepared remarks, or will he go off script and start riffing like he’s skating across cracking ice? Will he shake hands with the champions and be done with it, or will he invite the whole team onto Air Force One and jaunt off to Mar-a-Lago for a lost weekend of golf and partying? Will he hold up the jersey with “45” on it, or will he name Bill Belichick Secretary of Defense? It’s all on the table!
This kind of chaos, which by literally every single media account of the last three years exists at every level of the Trump administration, isn’t exactly a recipe for stable, reliable government operations. But man, its entertainment value is absolutely off the charts.
Why do teams still visit the White House?
Now, while the ceremonies themselves may be borderline farce, the Office of the President itself isn’t. That’s the main reason why these ceremonies should continue; it’s a landmark achievement to win a championship at the highest level of your sport, and that deserves recognition.
That prestige that the White House affords is also why players choose to use the ceremony as a vehicle for protest. And again, that’s appropriate and perfectly American. You’ve got a voice and a platform, you use it — like Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who declined to join the team at Thursday’s visit because of the president’s handling of the Puerto Rico crisis.
Cora joins a long list of athletes who have declined to attend the White House, some outlining their reasons explicitly and others sidestepping controversy by claiming “other commitments.” Which is fine! Protest of ruling power is America’s origin story!
Moreover, when a Democrat returns to the White House, it’ll also be perfectly fine for some New England Patriot — come on, you know they’re gonna win 20 more Super Bowls — to decide he opposed that future president’s stance on some social issue and skip the ceremony. (Tom Brady caught grief for skipping a visit with President Obama, but he shouldn’t have. Make your own choices, regardless of what Twitter thinks.) That’s American bedrock ideology, using your voice and standing up for what you believe without fear you’ll be thrown in jail or worse.
(And if you’re thinking that entertainers should just stick to their jobs and not poke their noses into politics, well, keep in mind there’s a guy I know of who ought to be starting Season 18 of “The Apprentice” right about now.)
Sure, the protests tick off the types who want their athletes to just “stick to sports.” And the fact that any player still meets with the president at all ticks off plenty on the other end of the political spectrum. That’s unavoidable. But you can choose to rage about athlete visits, or you can choose to revel in them.
With stars and extravagance at center stage, championship visits are the purest distillation of that perennial — and dead-on — assessment of the Trump White House as reality TV. Like reality TV, you cringe, but you always keep coming back. And if this is how we’re rolling in America now, hey, at least the athlete visits keep the spectacle contained to the Rose Garden.
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