In a divided American political landscape, the once-unquestioned tradition of sports teams accepting the honor of a visit to the White House upon winning a championship has become a much hotter button than ever before.
Players, and sometimes entire teams, have refused the invitation, dividing clubhouses and giving pundits in sports and political media alike something with which to fill the endless 24-hour news cycle.
Enter Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox, 2018 American League MVP, who just threw some gasoline onto that fire by announcing that he will not be joining his teammates for a planned White House visit in May.
The Sox were originally to visit during the offseason, on Feb. 15, but the government shutdown pushed that date out to mid-May, after a three-game set in Baltimore in which the Red Sox will play the Orioles.
On Saturday, Betts told The Boston Globe flatly, “I won’t be going there. I decided not to.”
Red Sox manager Alex Cora is likewise unlikely to attend, according to the Globe.
The Puerto Rico-born skipper is still angry about comments made by the Trump administration in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
In a September 2018 interview with NBC Sports, Cora tried to divorce his beef with the president from politics as a whole, saying that although Trump’s comments were “disrespectful” to the people of Puerto Rico, he “hate[s] that people that make it a political issue. This is about human beings.”
Betts’ comments came after the Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner in New York, where he received his MVP trophy.
Betts did not give a reason for refusing the invite, merely saying that he thought about it and decided he would not go.
Other Red Sox players joining the thanks-but-no-thanks circle with Betts include third baseman Rafael Devers and pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts and utility infielder Eduardo Nunez are “undecided,” The Globe reported.
Plenty of Red Sox players have decided they will accept the invitation, however. The team has not made attendance at the White House mandatory, allowing players to make their own decision, according to The Globe.
Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Brock Holt, Brian Johnson, Mitch Moreland, Steve Pearce, Rick Porcello, Chris Sale, and Blake Swihart have said they would attend.
Other teams have been divided about whether to attend the White House following their championship.
Last year’s Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles had their invite rescinded when it became evident that the majority of players would not attend.
But the New England Patriots, following their win over the Atlanta Falcons in 2017, did attend, though star quarterback Tom Brady.was notable for his absence.
In 2017, the Houston Astros were a nearly complete unit in attendance, although like Cora, the two Puerto Ricans on the roster — Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran — passed up the opportunity to meet the president.
And, of course, the NBA has been a notable no-show, the Golden State Warriors having had their invite rescinded in 2017 after Steph Curry’s public criticism of the president and, in 2018, having once again been considered personae non gratae on the White House lawn.
So far, nine members of the 25-man roster for the 2018 World Series-winning Red Sox have said a definitive yes, three have outright refused, the manager is leaning no, two more players are on the fence, and the remaining 12 have not commented one way or the other.
Time will tell what the final numbers will be, and what the Trump White House will do in response.
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