Black and Hispanic players and coaches are expected to justify their reasons for not going to Trump’s White House. But the real question is: Why have so many of the white players on the Red Sox chosen not to support their black and brown teammates?
Read: The president’s pursuit of white power
As my colleague Yoni Appelbaum wrote in June, the history of sports teams visiting the White House began in 1865, when Union soldiers played baseball on the White House grounds to pay homage to a game they loved and to send a unifying message to a country torn apart by the Civil War.
But President Andrew Johnson wasn’t really on board with a message of togetherness. Around that time, The Cincinnati Enquirer quoted Johnson as telling the governor of Missouri, “This is a country for white men, and by God, so long as I am president, it shall be a government for white men.”
That divisive proclamation 154 years ago turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Johnson wanted a government where certain people felt excluded. Under Trump, Johnson’s wish came true.
Trump hasn’t made his views as overt as Johnson did, but the current president’s actions, policies, and treatment of marginalized citizens reveal a lot about his underlying attitudes. As such, Trump turned the tradition of championship teams visiting the White House into an uncomfortable experience for athletes of color—who are often asked to cast aside their identity for the comfort of their white teammates, owners, coaches, and fans.
Plenty of commentators have argued that these White House visits should be apolitical and devoid of drama. But under Trump’s administration, that simply isn’t possible.
Recently, Trump hosted the NCAA champion Baylor women’s-basketball team at the White House, making the Bears the first women’s championship team Trump has held a private ceremony for since he became president. That the Baylor coach, Kim Mulkey, had publicly campaigned for an invitation to the White House helped bring about the visit. Trump has shown that he can be petulant about extending invites to championship teams if his overture won’t be warmly received. After the Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship in 2017, Trump rescinded his invitation to them on Twitter because several players had been critical of the president, and many of them made it known that they had no interest in attending a White House reception.
Read: Nothing unites a team like getting disinvited to the White House
When photos of Baylor’s visit circulated on social media, the internet had its fun making note of how some of the players didn’t look thrilled to be there. As of now, no one outside the team knows if Mulkey ever considered how some of her players might feel about being in the presence of someone who has insulted not just people of color, but also women—and women athletes in particular.