Ahead of Superbowl 51, the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady had the closest connection to U.S. President Donald Trump of any NFL team. Given that the Patriots are based in in Massachusetts, one of the most liberal, left-leaning states in the country, the association to Trump made them villainous figures in contrast to the underdog status of the Atlanta Falcons.
A week removed from the politically charged climax of the football season, the Patriots are once again Superbowl champions, while Brady is widely considered to be the greatest quarterback in history. Though the political connection was not enough to overshadow their historic victory, the team has been unable to escape the political climate entirely either.
Over the past few days, six Patriots players — Martellus Bennett, Devin McCourty, Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Alan Branch and Dont’a Hightower — have said they will refuse an invitation to the White House to meet with the president. While none specifically mentioned politics as the reason for their expected absence, it is not uncommon for athletes to refuse invitations to the White House on political grounds.
In 2013, the Obama administration honored the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only NFL team to complete an undefeated season. Three members refused the invitation, including Hall of Famer Jim Langer, who claimed that he doesn’t “want to be in a room with those people and pretend I’m having a good time. I can’t do that.” Bob Kuechenberg, another member of the legendary team, also refused the invitation because he doesn’t “believe in this administration at all.” Even Brady refused an invitation to the White House in 2015, which he insisted was not on political grounds but due to the ceremony being a last-minute event.
“Everybody has their own choice,” Brady told Pro Football Talk Live. “There are certain years, like a couple years ago, I wanted to go and didn’t get the opportunity based on the schedule. We didn’t get told until I think like 10 days before we were going, and at that point I had something I’d been planning for months and couldn’t get there.”
Brady’s connection to Trump began shortly after he announced his candidacy in 2015 when a Make America Great Again hat was spotted in Brady’s locker during a media scrum. Over the following year, Brady repeatedly showed his support for the controversial candidate by referring to their 16-year-long friendship as golf partners and appearing on the campaign trail . He also refused to denounce the leaked “grab them by the p***” tape that divulged Trump’s “locker room talk.”
Yet despite his favorable position on Trump’s administration, Brady believes White House visits shouldn’t be about politics.
“It really is a great experience,” Brady added. “Putting politics aside, it never was a political thing. At least, it never was to me. It as something that was a privilege to do. It meant you won a championship and you got to experience something cool with your team, with your teammates. Everyone has their own choice.”