Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ladies' Choice & Patriots' Prerogative

Will members of the UConn women's basketball team
sit out a visit to the White House? 
On paper the New England Patriots and the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team would seem to have very little in common aside from their being elite athletic teams that have won multiple championships.

But in the past couple weeks they've both been thrust into the national political arena over questions related to whether members of the respective teams will pay visits to the White House.

We're all familiar with the traditional visit to the White House for championship teams.

But what has traditionally been seen as a mark of honor and privilege, to have athletic excellence recognized in person by the president of the United States, has now become a source of controversy because of the man who now occupies the Oval Office - and in particular, what he represents.

As I perused today's headlines on the New York Times Website on my Kindle from the comfort of my bed this morning, I was struck by Jere´ Longman's interesting article in the sports section over the unusual quandary facing UConn's top-ranked Lady Huskies basketball team.

Having recently notched their historic 100th straight victory over 6th ranked South Carolina last Monday night in front of a sellout crowd, these exceptional student-athletes are 24-0 on the season and an odds-on favorite to capture UConn's 5th straight National Championship in a row.

An incredible feat for any team, let alone a team like the Lady Huskies who consistently perform well in the spotlight and under pressure against the nation's premiere Division-I women's basketball teams.

Coach Auriemma, asst. coaches & players celebrate
their 90th straight victory earlier this season 
As Longman noted in his New York Times piece this morning, when the UConn Lady Huskies players and coaches visited the White House last year after capturing their 4th straight national title, President Obama "joked that he would keep a room with a cot waiting for coach Geno Auriemma and the Huskie's regular visit to the White House."

But should these young women be compelled to accept congratulations from a man who bragged openly about groping women's privates? He's a pig.

Reading through the numerous comments from Times' readers on Longman's article, there was an interesting mix of reactions that reflect the division that Trump's campaign, statements and fledgling presidency have sewn amongst people in this nation and abroad.

Some readers argued vehemently that the UConn players, should they win the national title, are bound to attend the White House ceremony out of respect for the office of the presidency - regardless of who occupies the Oval Office.

Buy my sense was that many more readers, including myself, felt that appearing at the White House with Trump represents not just a tacit acceptance of his presidency and the intolerance, ignorance, misogyny and bigotry it represents.

Appearing next to him would also contribute to the normalization of this man, his advisers and their reprehensible views - lest we forget his chief policy adviser Stephen Bannon is a white supremacist with ties to Neo-Nazis.

Patriots tight-end Marcellus Bennett
Ever since the Patriots' dramatic comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl, that same question has hovered over the team like an ominous cloud.

It's fair to say that the Patriots dilemma is somewhat different than that facing the Huskies.

First, the Pats are no strangers to headline-grabbing controversies in recent years.

From head coach Bill Belichick and his staff getting caught using cameras to try and read opposing coaches signals on the field, to quarterback Tom Brady's infamous "Deflategate".

Both team owner Bob Kraft and Brady are on record as being Trump supporters.

But as various media outlets, including have reported, at least six different Pats players, including tight-end Marcellus Bennett, have gone on record as saying the will not attend the team's visit to the White House specifically because of their opposition to Trump and what he represents.

In an interview with Time, Pats free safety Devon McCourty said he will not be attending the White House ceremony because, "I don't feel accepted at 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."

This isn't the first instance of members of the Patriots using their visibility as NFL players to weigh in on the national debate.

And it likely won't be the last either.

Patriots defensive end Chris Long
Defensive end Chris Long (who is white), McCourtney and Bennett all voiced their strong support for San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel silently during the national anthem before NFL games earlier this season to protest the killing of unarmed  people of color by some members of the American law enforcement community.

To me, as a former Division-I college and professional football player, I both applaud and think it's important for these guys to use their position in the spotlight to chime in on important social and political issues that are dividing the country.

And for the Lady Huskies, no coach, college administrator, fan or populist sentiment has any right telling these student-athletes what they should or shouldn't do in this situation - they have the right to Free Speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution and they're old enough to be able to make that decision for themselves.

No one should force any woman to be in the same room as a man who bragged about sexual assault who has been accused by at least ten different women of rape - no matter who he is or what office he occupies.

Trump has made his own bed with his loutish statements and bigotry, and if some folks choose not to go to the White House to be recognized by him, that choice is up to the ladies of UConn and it's the prerogative of the Patriots.

No comments: