To visit the Trump White House or not to visit?

After the Washington Nationals helped Trump avenge fans who booed him, even more organizations will think twice before visiting

In 1984, yours truly got invited to the White House by joining a long walk that called for an end to the Cold War-era arms race. We weren’t going to meet then-President Ronald Reagan himself, but his disarmament official and others amid the formal settings.

There was talk among some of whether such a visit would make the hardliner Reagan appear more flexible and open to opposing views. Some feared we would be used as political pawns in the international, high-stakes chess game. In the end, most supported the visit. We went and made our case. After all, we were trying to lobby government leaders to pursue better relations with the former Soviet Union and reduce the threat of a catastrophic war. What better way to do that than face-to-face?

The results? Let’s just say that it wasn’t a coincidence that by the end of our walk, Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev were meeting for the first time in Geneva. Sure, it was because of our visit, right? I’ll just remember it that way.

The visits to the White House these days are even more controversial than they were then. The Washington Nationals had to confront that reality just two days after the team and some 500,000 fans celebrated the franchise’s first World Series championship in the streets of D.C. in early November 2019.

A few days before that, Donald Trump had attended a World Series game at Nationals Park and been soundly booed by many fans. Some even joined in a “Lock him up” chant. The ire on his face was readily apparent. You knew he would find some way to exact revenge.

What better way for the King of Trolls to do so than to ruin the glow of Nats fans who booed him by inviting the team for a traditional White House visit just a day before important elections? They could eat fast food and bask in the maniacal radiance emanating from King Troll. In return, he would use the photos as campaign fodder for those elections. On a personal and important-to-him note, he could stick those images of Kurt Suzuki in a MAGA hat onstage with Trump in the faces of those who dared to boo him in public at the World Series.

It was a pretty crafty move, in a Machiavellian sense. Trump looked to many of the masses like he was being the bigger person, ignoring the slights to welcome the team. Fans who called for the team to boycott the photo op were seen by many as the petty ones. Trump exacted his revenge by showing again why he is the King of Trolls, if nothing else.

In reality, it was a move done to avenge a public slight,as well as to help GOP campaigns the day before elections. No other sports team that won a championship has gone to this White House in such a short time. Some, such as the Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Storm, weren’t even invited, or those invites were rescinded after some expressed opposition. The Warriors met with Obama, instead, a few months after their 2018 parade.

Take a look at those past situations:

Team ………………………. Title parade date ….. White House visit date

Washington Nationals ……. Nov. 2, 2019 ………….…. Nov. 4, 2019
Toronto Raptors …………… June 17, 2019 ………….. Not invited
St. Louis Blues …………….. June 15, 2019 ………….. Oct. 15, 2019
New England Patriots ……… Feb. 5, 2019 …………… Unlikely
Boston Red Sox …………….. Oct. 29, 2018 …………… May 9, 2019
Seattle Storm ………………. Sept. 16, 2018 …………. Not invited
Washington Capitals ………. June 12, 2018 ………….. March 25, 2019
Golden State Warriors …….. June 12, 2018 ………….. Not invited
Philadelphia Eagles ………… Feb. 8, 2018 ……………. Invite rescinded
Houston Astros …………….. Nov. 3, 2017 …………… March 12, 2018
New England Patriots ……… Feb. 7, 2017 …………… April 19, 2017

See a pattern? Even teams favorable to Trump, such as the Patriots, had to wait at least two months before going to the White House. To go there two days after the parade was “unpresidented,” as Trump likes to say.

Doolittle, Rendon, Robles among players who don’t attend Trump ceremony

To his credit, Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle became the first player from that team to publicly say he wouldn’t visit the White House. He articulated his reasons in a more coherent way than most, citing Trump’s divisive rhetoric and actions that would take a James Michener-sized book to list.

Of course, that became a distraction and divisive issue as fans prepared for a celebration. Trump wanted to ruin Nats’ fans celebration, just as many fans ruined his baseball game visit. That’s the way the King Troll operates.

Many ignored the situation and focused on the celebration of the Nationals’ historic season. But on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites, Trump supporters crucified Doolittle for his stance. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, tweeted on the Nats’ parade day that the photo ops were about “celebrating a great American pastime,” not about Doolittle’s supposed “petty political sensibilities.” Again, Doolittle was making a principled stand.

Ten teammates, including MVP candidate Anthony Rendon and Gold Glove runnerup Victor Robles, joined Doolittle in not showing up to what became an impromptu MAGA rally — which Trump held outside with adoring supporters, not inside as is tradition — used by the GOP one day before elections. Rendon was attending to family business, according to his agent, while others either gave little reason or cited personal and family issues.

Rendon later admitted publicly to being a Trump supporter, blaming his no-show on a miscommunication on the date. He was originally told it would be the day after elections, but that was suddenly changed to the day before elections. That lent further evidence that these Trump events are designed more to help Trump get votes than honor championship teams.

Suzuki claimed his MAGA hat-wearing stunt was all in good “fun,” something many fans failed to see. Some fans said they would withhold buying gear and were not renewing season ticket packages because of Suzuki and other players’ enthusiastic support of Trump at the ceremony.

Ryan Zimmerman also paraphrased Trump’s MAGA slogan in praising him for “continuing to make America the greatest country in the world.” He added that Trump was “keeping everyone here safe in our country,” a statement with which family members of mass shootings would likely have a problem. Manager Dave Martinez and general manager Mike Rizzo applauded Suzuki’s stunt and smiled wildly throughout Trump’s largely-incoherent ramblings. At one point, Trump mentioned that people mostly liked talking about Nats baseball and impeachment these days, making the event about him. He claimed to like Nats baseball more, despite him being a long-time Yankees fan who had not attended a Nats game before the 2019 World Series.

In the aftermath, Stephen Strasburg tweeted for the first time in months, using one of Trump’s favorite phrases, “FakeNews,” to call out a video showing him ignoring Trump’s extended hand at first. The vitriol against the Nationals on social media was back, after many rooted for them during their underdog playoff run. Goodwill was crushed in the blink of a Trumpian awkward, behind-the-back hug.

To repeat, these sports title visits are nothing more than photo ops to be used by the campaign. No one gets a chance to say anything meaningful to a president during them. They are whisked in and out. They might be able to talk with staffers, but for many, there is little point. They aren’t going to change anyone’s minds with such an exchange.

But the photo ops and other optics could turn out disastrous, as Nationals management is discovering. In a 2012 visit I observed by the Dallas Mavericks with Obama, no one donned an Obama hat or praised him publicly. They merely thanked him and talked about the team and season. The ceremony was inside in the East Room with about 200 people, not outside in a rally with several thousand Trump supporters.

The Mavs showed how you do a presidential visit. It’s not a good sign when afterwards, many refer to your team as the Washington Nationalists.

So I’m fine with players like Doolittle opting out of the Trump impromptu MAGA rally visits. If they were a sit-down discussion like the one I attended in 1984, that’s entirely different.

But a photo op? I would pass on visiting a White House led by King Troll, too.

Written for 45+ newspapers/mags. Written some books — see Visited 48 states, 30+ countries.

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