It seemed discussed from the moment the scoreboard read double zero—even before, in hushed ‘what-if’s: How will the Philadelphia Eagles respond to an invitation to the White House as Super Bowl champions?
A worthy question, given Philadelphia’s prominence in the pregame protests of the past two years, spearheaded by SAF Malcolm Jenkins, who led delegations that met with the NFL and spoke to Congress during the 2017 NFL season. Jenkins, neither pugnacious nor unafraid in expressing his dissatisfaction with President Trump, said back in February that a visit to the White House “wouldn’t be worth his time.” DE Chris Long, a more active and less filtered participant in the national dialogue and on social media, addressed the topic on Pardon My Take even before the Super Bowl victory, saying:
“My son grows up, and I believe the legacy of our president is going to be what it is, I don’t want him to say, ‘Hey dad, why’d you go [to the White House] when you knew the right thing was to not go.”
After team discussions, the Eagles decided to send a small representative portion of their organization to the White House—NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported that it was “less than 10,” and that the decision was made to prevent the White House trip from becoming a “sideshow.” This, however, was deemed by President Trump’s White House as insufficient—and accordingly, the White House has slammed the door on any and all Super Bowl champions:
There’s a lot to parse here, folks.
For one, we again have an activity that has been twisted and contorted into a shape that betrays its form. The Super Bowl championship White House visit—like the NFL protests themselves—was never about patriotism; about country; about the military. In that it is impossible to divorce the White House from the United States, yes, visiting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue can and often does remind the attendee of his love for—or perhaps, frustration with—his country. But it is not as if winning a football game means you have a greater responsibility to honor the country and pay tribute to the armed services; it means you get to do dope stuff. Like visit the White House; like catch beers on the top of a bus on Broad Street; like put up new plaques and posters in your team facility. NFL champions don’t visit the White House to recognize; they visit to be recognized.
And we can question the logic of that trip all together. Do multi-million dollar celebrities need to hear contrived NFL puns and riffs, tossed into the mouth of a largely disinterested public figure, before they take pictures on the front lawn? Probably not—but then again, most events of celebrity fail that very test. With the bond between sports and politics as tenuous as it is, it seems like the entire event is unworthy of the hullabaloo it (inevitably) generated.
We should take a moment to acknowledge, however, that it’s likely quite frustrating for those members of the Eagles organization who wanted to go visit the White House. People in the locker room, on the staff, and in the big offices voted for Donald Trump—it’s just numbers—and I’m sure a good deal of them wanted to visit the man they put in office, feel that inevitable brush of patriotism that one does inside the walls of the White House. For those players and staff, this sucks.
But even with those men and women acknowledged, we should recognize that the Eagles organization has an opportunity to make an unambiguous statement, in a moment more mired than any in the shades and knots of politic/sport crossover. Players, powerful in that they are visible, wealthy, and often born from a different class, speak eternally about ‘making a difference in their community.’ And specifically, in the conversation of racial inequality, police brutality, and patriotism in protest, players across the NFL and especially in Philadelphia have expressed their sole interest: Making a difference in black and impoverished communities, through the private actions of outreach and charity, and through the public actions of political discourse and awareness.
The Eagles’ schedule unexpectedly opened up, as it were: and now they can pencil in anything they like. Many players could go sight-see, as was an idea discussed for the non-visitors. But after President Trump’s clear statement—“We are going to honor our country in here, and we’re not going to let you in because you won’t honor our country”—what the Eagles do will immediately be held up against what they could have done. Currently bearing the label of ‘unpatriotic,’ players like Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long, even Carson Wentz—the most visible of the Eagles, always engaged in charity softball games and food trucks, but never political—have the opportunity to fill their Tuesday with whatever patriotism means to them. They can go into the streets of D.C. and help the poor; stay in Philadelphia and work with kids; make appearances on radio and television to continue advancing their messages.
At 3 p.m., President Trump will be standing in front of the White House, loudly and proudly playing the national anthem. But it will not be with a spirit of inclusion or acceptance—inherently American ideas—but rather with petulance, his nose upturned at a private entity that wouldn’t give him everything he wanted. That book is closed. What matters now is, at 3 p.m., what the Philadelphia Eagles will be doing instead.