(ATLANTA) — Fresh off a historic Super Bowl win against the Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots safety Duron Harmon was asked on Sunday whether he plans to attend the traditional White House visit with his teammates, where they would be honored in a ceremony by President Donald Trump.
“Nah, man. They don’t want me in the White House, man,” Harmon told TMZ Sports.
The short exchange, in which Harmon noted that it “would be dope” to see former President Barack Obama, reignited a saga that has become part of the inevitable cycle in the age of Trump.
Over the past two years, the president has publicly feuded with athletes and sports institutions, particularly the NFL, in a way that no U.S. president has before.
Trump ignited a public war with some of the league’s biggest stars when he slammed black players like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who routinely took a knee during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality. Trump also lambasted NFL owners for allowing the protests to continue and called on fans to boycott games.
His rhetoric has not only drawn backlash from some players, but has also put those who did not comment in the spotlight, prompting speculation about their politics.
Amid the barrage of questions about broken records, team dynamics and assessments of plays, sports champions — from the NBA to the NFL — have been bombarded by reporters and fans who want to know: “Are you going to the White House?”
The Patriots, who happen to be Trump’s favorite team, have gone to the Super Bowl each year that Trump has been president and won the championship in 2017.
One day later, tight end Martellus Bennett told reporters that he would not participate in the White House visit.
“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,” he said.
Over the next couple of weeks, several other players including defensive end Chris Long, running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive tackle Alan Branch and linebacker Dont’a Hightower announced that they would also not attend, with some citing their opposition to Trump.
But it was the team’s star quarterback Tom Brady — a personal friend of Trump since 2002 — who was at the center of the drama.
After months of speculation, Brady surprised many when he announced on April 19 — the day of the visit — that he would not be joining his teammates at the White House, citing “personal family matters.”
“I am so happy and excited that our team is being honored at the White House today,” Brady said in a statement. “Our team has accomplished something very special that we are all proud of and will be for years to come. Thank you to the President for hosting this honorary celebration and for supporting our team for as long as I can remember.”
Trump hosted a group of Patriots players at the White House, along with team owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick, who are also friends with Trump. He he did not publicly comment on Brady’s absence.
But last year the president rescinded an invitation to the 2018 Super Bowl champs, the Philadelphia Eagles, after several players announced that they planned to boycott the visit.
“The Philadelphia Eagles Football Team was invited to the White House. Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event. Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!” the president tweeted.
He also disinvited the 2017 NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors, tweeting, “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!”
The Warriors, who also came out on top in 2018, did not receive an invitation from Trump.
ABC News has reached out to the White House to ask whether the president plans on inviting the Patriots this year, but a request for comment was not immediately returned.
Trump, who routinely congratulates the Patriots on Twitter, has not yet tweeted about this year’s win, but he did attend a Super Bowl watch party with first lady Melania Trump Sunday night at his Mar-a-lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
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