SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Finally, time for sports.
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SIMON: Winners go to the White House - or will they? Only their agents may know for sure. I'm joined now as always by Howard Bryant of espn.com. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.
HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?
SIMON: I'm fine, thank you. The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl this week in the most spectacular fashion on Sunday. They've been invited to the White House, as major sports champions are. I was there just three weeks ago with the Chicago Cubs.
SIMON: I knew you'd say that. I knew you'd say that. That's why I paused. But now six or seven Patriots say they're not going on principle. What do you make of all this?
BRYANT: Well, this is where we are. And I think it's an important thing to remember that the New England Patriots didn't start this trend. This has really been going on for about 25 years. Let's not forget that Tom Brady did not go to the White House when the Patriots beat the Seahawks. And then Tim Thomas, the Bruins goaltender, when the Bruins beat Vancouver, had his Facebook screed against the Obama administration and chose not to go. James Harrison from the Steelers didn't go for either Super Bowl victory when George Bush was in the White House or when President Obama was in the White House. So this is where we are.
On the one hand, we say that we don't want our athletes to be bland. We say we don't want the canned cliches. And so this is the price for that. Now you have athletes expressing themselves and expressing their politics. And I would like to think, Scott - I would like to think that there is a respect for the office of the presidency regardless of who's in it, that that office means something to all of us. However, we're at a point right now where it really doesn't. That - those days seem to be gone.
SIMON: Here's a hypothetical that's not so hypothetical. If either the Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers win the NBA title this year, I don't see Coach Steve Kerr of the Warriors or LeBron James of the Cavs wanting to shake hands with President Trump and perhaps vice versa. Is it time for just - just to retire this event?
BRYANT: Well, on the one hand, I think so simply because you can't have it both ways. You say that you don't want politics. People always say stick to sports. But this is a political time. This is a - it's a political event when you care about who's in the White House. And these times are very, very, very different. We're in an extremely incendiary, divisive moment. We have a divisive person in the White House. We have a moment where the decision to put that person in the White House was very different in a lot of ways from elections past. And maybe we have to change with the times.
But once again, I like the citizenship of these players. I like the fact that we're getting - that we're getting these athletes - what did we always say about the players over the years? Too rich to care. And now you see ballplayers out there and they're protesting and they're expressing themselves. And this latest - this latest trip with Michael Bennett, one of the NFL players who was asked to go on this trip to Israel, came out and said that he's not going to go and a lot of NFL players aren't going on this trip because they don't want to be used. They want to see both sides. And this is, I think, what citizenship is. I appreciate it, actually.
SIMON: Yeah. I was struck by Tom Ricketts, owner of the Cubs. He's got a sister who's a big liberal activist, a brother, Republican governor of one state, and one coming to work for the Trump administration. He says, look, we're a typical American family. We're all over the ballpark. No pun intended - or maybe pun intended.
BRYANT: Not all going to agree on things. But I can say one thing, Scott.
BRYANT: This is where we are, and I don't think it's going to change at all. It's going to intensify.
SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much. You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.