Let’s all take a moment to applaud the Pittsburgh Penguins, not for making a political statement of any kind, which some are probably already misinterpreting, but for simply doing the right thing.
After his won team won its second consecutive Stanley Cup earlier this month, Penguins’ team president David Morehouse, a known democrat who once worked under the Clinton administration and on the campaigns for Al Gore and John Kerry, announced Pittsburgh – if invited – would absolutely, 100 percent visit the White House as a team, noting that the traditional celebratory White House visit is neither the time, nor the place, to stage political protests.
This is a breath of fresh air in contrast to the Golden State Warriors, who, in the aftermath of winning their second NBA Title in three years, have indicated they would need time to make up their minds if invited, and the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, who brought a sparse crowd to their White House visit after several noteworthy players – Devin McCourty, Chris Long and Martellus Bennett, among others – publicly denied their invitation.
Visiting the White House to celebrate a championship of any kind is not an indication you agree with the current president’s politics, nor is it a show of any sort of unilateral party support; it’s a pomp and circumstance photo-op and, for many players involved, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be congratulated, in person, by the reigning commander-in-chief for achieving something remarkable in your profession.
You get invited, you make the time to go – it’s the right thing to do.
Most of us in our late-30s to early 40s were taught long ago the difference between right and wrong and abide by the philosophy that there’s a time and a place for everything. We grew up respecting authority (policemen, teachers, firemen, our elders), otherwise we faced swift and effective discipline ranging from a stern warning to a firm backhand. We didn’t file a lawsuit or feverishly seek out a “safe space” to hide from reality; we dealt with it, learned from it and made sure we never did it again.
At some point over the past three decades or so, our society has focused more on knowing and exercising our rights instead of doing what’s right. Nowadays, if we don’t like something, or find something offensive, we draw a sign, stage a protest and shout down any and all opposing voices because, goddammit, it’s our right to do so. The slow and steady increase of social media truth-seekers and keyboard hashtag activists have made it a point to unzip their collective flies and piss all over traditional morals and values. While we’re on the subject, don’t you dare tell them where they can piss, either, because that depends on what gender they identify with that day. After all, it’s their right!
Forget for a second the notion that skipping the White House visit is disrespectful to the office and our country and a slap in the face to the millions of everyday plebeians who’d bask in such an opportunity, both of which are true. In reality, the worst part about players or teams declining the invite – or at least considering it – because they don’t like or agree with President Trump is they unknowingly become part of the problem.
For whatever reason, our society tends to value the opinion of athletes and celebrities. We latch onto every word they say and every breath they take and gleefully buy into whatever products or pitches they endorse. If Leonardo DiCaprio stages a campaign to end the suffering and abuse of the endangered Pacific walrus, we listen because he played Luke on Growing Pains and is super dreamy. Whether they like it or not, athletes and celebrities have the rare ability to use their status as a platform to ignite social change, or at least initiate the dialogue.
Thereby, if Bennett, McCourty, Steph Curry or whoever else is on the list, opposes President Trump and his policies, they should use their impending visit to the White House as an opportunity to arrange an informal rap session with the commander-in-chief to express why they feel the way they do and why they speak for millions of U.S. citizens who share their beliefs. Would it change anything? Maybe, maybe not. At least give it a shot. President Obama invited rapper Rick Ross – ankle bracelet and all – to the White House to discuss an initiative to keep African American youths in school and off the streets, so it’s clear politicians have no issue leaning on the celebrity status of athletes, musicians, etc., to help fuel an agenda, or vice-versa.
Blowing off the White House trip for no other reason than your disdain for the president is as equally ineffective and divisive as Colin Kaepernick protesting the National Anthem, speaking out vehemently against the oppression of minorities and then choosing not to vote in last year’s election.
Imagine being so detached from the life you used to live and so disconnected from the reality most of us face each day that an invite to the White House to be honored by the President of the United States ranks somewhere below Wet Wednesdays at LIV or the release of your new sneaker line on your excitement index. There are millions of schoolteachers impacting children's’ lives on a daily basis who’d nosedive into the North Lawn fountain for a chance to shake hands with any president.
Rhode Island’s Teacher of the Year, Nikos Giannopoulos, who describes his lifestyle as “visibly queer,” visited the White House to accept his award and posed for a photo-op with President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump that has since gone viral after Giannopoulos admittedly added a little flair to the pic by whipping out his black lace fan and striking a pose, perhaps as a way to say, yes, a gay guy can parade through the Oval Office without getting drawn and quartered. What are the chances Giannopoulos voted from Trump in November? Slim to none, but he used his invite as a platform, which is no way different than every president over the past 30 years using the sports teams’ victory parade through the White House as positive PR for that respective administration.
To shoot down a visit to the White House, arguably the most recognizable symbol of our nation’s freedom and independence outside of the Statue of Liberty, when you make more than three times as much as the average American household for shooting a basketball or playing tackle football is an affront to the privileges you enjoy simply by being born on U.S. soil.
The Penguins get it. This isn’t about politics or party affiliation. It’s about respect and doing what’s right, the values we were all supposedly taught growing up. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Ask yourself first if it’s the right thing to do.
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