From the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” to Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in a black power salute at the 1968 Olympics, sports and politics have always found a way to intersect.
But with the proliferation of social media amid an increasingly politicized landscape, it’s almost impossible to separate sports and politics in 2019.
A perfect microcosm of that intersection is the traditional sports champions’ visit to the White House.
What should literally be no more than a glorified photo op with the president has somehow been weaponized into some sort of grand political gesture.
Should you choose to visit the White House and meet with President Donald Trump, some on the left will brand you as a “racist.” If you don’t make your intentions clear, you’re going to be pestered by reporters. And if you choose not to go, you’re inevitably turning a simple invitation decline into a political platform to decry the president.
That last bit rings particularly true for Washington Capitals All-Star goalie Braden Holtby. The Capitals, who won the 2018 Stanley Cup by beating the Las Vegas Golden Knights, are slated to visit the White House on Monday to celebrate D.C.’s first championship in the four major North American professional sports since the NFL’s Redskins in 1992.
Most of Holtby’s teammates were ecstatic about the looming visit.
“It will be fun,” center Nicklas Backstrom said after Tuesday’s win over the New Jersey Devils. “It’s exciting. Any time you get an invitation from the president and be at the White House, it’s going to be a great experience, I think.”
“I can’t wait,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin had said in June. “I’ve never been there. I want to take pictures around it. It will be fun.”
But Holtby? He is insisting on turning the photo op into a platform for his ideology.
“It’s one of those things that we have to think about, but for me, I gotta stay true to my values and I’m going to respectfully decline the offer,” Holtby told reporters after Friday’s morning skate, according to USA Today.
Braden Holtby will not be attending the White House with the Capitals on Monday. pic.twitter.com/QIRKmds4Qn
— theScore (@theScore) March 22, 2019
To be fair, as NBC Sports Washington’s Brian McNally reports, Holtby is using a little more tact in declining his invitation and not overtly bashing the president as some athletes have done.
The most nuanced quote from Braden Holtby on not going to the White House for Stanley Cup visit. pic.twitter.com/XVUNKfX9F7
— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) March 22, 2019
Even given that, however, Holtby’s decision to boycott the White House visit raises some eyebrows.
The four-time All-Star apparently is basing his decision on the presumption that Trump is anti-LGBTQ. It’s hard to discern where exactly Holtby’s opinions on Trump come from, as he doesn’t offer any specifics.
Holtby, who is straight, is well-known for being decidedly pro-LGBTQ. Not only has he previously participated in the DC Pride Parade, but he also gave a speech supporting the LGBTQ community at the Human Rights Campaign’s national dinner in 2018.
“We are proof that supporting LGBTQ equality is a winning decision and we’re honored to stand with you in this fight,” Holtby said.
“We are proof that supporting LGBTQ equality is a winning decision and we’re honored to stand with you in this fight.” – Washington @Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (@Holts170) #HRCNationalDinner pic.twitter.com/l9o53KScZv
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) September 16, 2018
Holtby now joins teammate Brett Connolly as the two Capitals players who will not be visiting the White House on Monday.
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