The New England Patriots earned the right to an honorary visit to the White House after beating the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, but a few Patriots players have already announced that they refuse to visit the nation's capital in protest of President Donald Trump's administration.
On Wednesday's episode of Undisputed, Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless reacted to the Patriots' dilemma, and Sharpe said that the team should stand united and send a message by breaking the championship tradition.
After Martellus Bennett stated that he would not go to the White House, Devin McCourty became the second Patriots player to speak out
Shannon: This is going to be a recurring issue for all championship teams
“Martellus, I’m not surprised, because Martellus has always been a free thinker, he’s always been very, very outspoken.
Devin McCourty is a little more measured. He came up in the Patriots’ system, so he understand the Patriots’ way. You don’t talk out, you don’t cause controversy, you don’t bring attention - negative or positive attention - to this team.
For him to do what he’s doing, I think it sends a very sound, resonating message that this might be something we’re going to see a recurrence of.”
Shannon: Athletes today don't want to 'stick to sports'
“Athletes in today’s time, we’re starting to see athletes saying ‘I do not only want athletic greatness, I want moral greatness as well.’ See, he’s thinking with his conscience and his heart…
A lot of the things going on, a lot of the policies being implemented doesn’t necessarily affect him directly. He’s financially secure, the NFL pays for his insurance. So currently, he’s really not affected by this - but these athletes of today’s time say ‘there’s something greater,’ there’s no more ‘just stick to sports.’ You hear that a lot, Skip. ‘Just stick to sports.’”
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Shannon: Image-conscious athletes of the past were afraid to speak out
“They’re saying ‘no, I will not, because my life is not just sports. Sometime, at some point, I’ll hang up the gym shoes, I’ll hang up my helmet, put down the baseball bat, and I’ll become a normal, prudent human being in American society. And what I see going on is not acceptable.
And I cannot in good conscience, although we won this as a team - and I would love to share in this moment as a team - I cannot in good conscience go. Because what I think this president is standing for, what he’s saying, the policies he’s implementing are harming the minority communities. I am a minority. Whether it be black, the Latino community, the immigration ban, LGBT - whatever it may be, you’re starting to see athletes take a much more of a stance. Because in the past, if you had a brand, you were making money, you do not do anything to upset the brand-makers or the people that’s buying that product. You keep your mouth shut.”
Geoff BurkeGeoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Shannon: What side of history do you want to be on?
“Those were the athletes that were thinking with their pockets, and I’m talking about black athletes, because the white athletes have never had to worry about civil rights.
Now, with this president, President Trump, in office, he’s going to ask you to ask an honest question of yourself. ‘What side of history do you want to be on?’
Are you going to be on the side of history that’s a bridge and that’s trying to bring people together, or are you a part of the wall, that’s trying to tear people apart? That’s the question that athletes are asking themselves, and you’re starting to see more and more saying ‘you know what? I want to be on the side of history that’s positive, that’s bringing people together.”
Shannon: The Patriots' big three leaders all have a special relationship with President Trump
“And so I think they are to be commended, because it’s going to be very, very interesting. This franchise, we know three things. We know how Mr. Kraft feels about President Trump. We know how Bill Belichick feels about President Trump. And we absolutely, unequivocally know how Tom Brady feels about President Trump, because he was one of the first athletes to have a hat positioned in his locker room just so the camera could catch it and see ‘make America great again.’ And then when they would ask him questions about it he would skirt the issue and ‘oh golly gee whiz, it was just a hat, it means nothing.’
In your 40 years, you’ve spent a lot of time in locker rooms. When they wanted you to see something, you saw it. When they didn’t, they hid it."
Bob DonnanBob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Shannon: Patriots players shouldn't be thinking with their pockets
“This is why I believe - and this is not to take a shot - this is why Muhammad Ali is held in higher regards in the African American community than Michael Jordan. Because although they both were great in their particular sport, Muhammad Ali though of a higher… he said ‘what’s going on is not right, I’m going to speak out.’
At that summit where they had all those leaders - the Muhammad Alis, the Kareem Abdul-Jabbars, the [Bill] Russels, the Jim Browns and Jackie Robinson - all those guys came together. They’re looking at themselves and saying ‘hold on, wait a minute. Yes, I’m in the NBA. Yes, I’m in the MLB… but how many Kareems are there in the world? How many Jim Browns are there in the world?’ They were thinking of a bigger picture. They’re not thinking about themselves, they’re not thinking about their back pocket.
If you only vote with your back pocket in mind, or your own best interest in mind, I believe, it is my belief that’s a terrible, terrible way of thinking. And for me, [my grandmother] Mary Porter would have done a bad job raising me if that’s the only way I thought.”
Stew MilneStew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
Skip: The Patriots need to make their decision as a team
"The bottom line here is, this is a new day for championship teams being invited to the White House. This is just the first championship team that is going to face a whole new dilemma. How will this team deal with this dilemma? I would like to point out that there are going to be white players in that locker room who have just as big an issue for different reasons, perhaps, as the black players, with the current presidential administration.
... I would suggest that this team needs to have a team meeting, at this point. ‘Are we going to go, are we not going to go?’ Because I’m not sure it’s going to work if seven players go to the White House. It would be a bad look for the football team, and it would be a really tough spot to put those seven players in."
Bob DonnanBob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Shannon: White House visits could become a thing of the past
"We won this championship together. We lost some games, we cried, we bled, we sweat together. We need to be all-in or all-out. There’s no in between on this. Because we can’t have all the white players go and all the black players stay. You can’t have that.
It’s going to be very interesting to see, moving forward, because think about the basketball teams. 95 percent of those are African American. Now we know for certain, I don’t believe that Steve Kerr, if [the Warriors] win the championship, he’s going. Gregg Popovich, he wouldn’t go at gunpoint. Let’s just say the Cavs win, you already know LeBron’s not going… so who’s going?
It’s a situation where, does the tradition end? That’s where we’re going."
Mark J. RebilasMark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Shannon: The Patriots can send an important message by unifying and not visiting Trump's White House.
"Devin McCourty’s saying ‘I cannot, in good conscience, come for a photo-op when I know what you stand for.’
Skip: If Shannon Sharpe were a leader of this year’s Patriots…. what would you encourage your team to do behind closed doors?
Shannon Sharpe: Not go. As a group. At the end of the day, you make the best decision, but I’m just saying, for us, the message that we are going to send that we are united, we are a team, we won this together. We’ve lost and cried and shed sweat and blood together. If we go - if part of us goes, and the other part stays - that says ‘divided.’ And so I would recommend that we do not go, that we do not attend.
Because we’re standing up against misogyny, we’re standing up against racism, xenophobia, that’s what we’re standing [up against]. It’s not about him. It’s about the other people that’s not Shannon Sharpe. That’s not Devin McCourty, that doesn’t have a voice."