Don’t blame the Warriors
Imagine for a minute that your team and your teammates just won a championship. You celebrate loudly, maybe have a few drinks and ride around on a truck during a massive parade.
You’re probably still on a massive high a few days after the hoopla ends, but then you get the “invite.”
You and your squad have been asked to the White House where you will be honored by the current president and now you have a choice to make:
Should you stay or should you go?
Teams and athletes have been invited to Washington, D.C., for years, and according to ESPN, the tradition goes as far back as 1865. That’s when Andrew Johnson was the new president and two amateur baseball teams were invited.
Less than three years later, Johnson also became the first president to be impeached, so that’s two legacies he’s left to history, albeit one kind of overshadows the other.
Ulysses S. Grant invited the first pro baseball team in 1869 (now the Cincinnati Reds) and Calvin Coolidge invited the World Series champion Washington Senators in 1924.
Over time, more and more teams were added to the invite list.
The NBA was invited to the White House in 1963 with the Boston Celtics meeting John F. Kennedy, the NCAA in 1976 when national champion Indiana basketball team met Gerald Ford, and the NFL in 1980 when the Pittsburgh Steelers were honored by Jimmy Carter in a dual championship ceremony with their city’s Major League Baseball champs, the Pirates.
The idea really took off during the 1980s where Ronald Reagan turned himself into an honorary athlete during two Super Bowl ceremonies, getting a cooler of popcorn dumped on him and throwing a pass to a Washington Redskins wide receiver at another.
George H.W. Bush became the first chief executive to honor the Stanley Cup champs with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and son George W. Bush started the idea of honoring all of the other NCAA Division I teams in one ceremony that was later continued by Barack Obama.
It’s kind of a cheesy event where the president congratulates the team, says a few jokes and poses for some photos. The best ones involve teams from the president’s home city or state like Obama and the Chicago Cubs earlier this year, or when the champion is from Washington, D.C. It could be a quite a while for the latter to happen.
You might think that teams and athletes would clamor for the chance to meet the president and be honored at the White House, but not everybody is thrilled about it.
Some athletes have declined the invite due to political differences, conflicting events or complete indifference as was the case with Larry Bird in 1984, who famously said the president (Reagan) knew where to find him.
Michael Jordan and Tom Brady also declined invites in polite fashion, while former Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas decided to go on an epic Facebook rant to explain his reasoning back in 2011. To each his own, I guess.
However, during these turbulent times, whenever a team wins a title, everyone on it will be asked if they will go. The Clemson Tigers football team showed up, but several New England Patriots declined their invite from Donald Trump.
Now the NBA champion Golden State might not be attending at all. The rumor broke about the Warriors’ boycott shortly after they won the title, but the team now says it hasn’t made a decision.
Various people have come out and given their thoughts on what the Warriors should do, most noticeably Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, who argued that they should.
Jenkins wrote in her column that “The Warriors, attractive public figures as they are, have a unique ability to cut through all the shouting and perform an act of critical social activism: They can be exemplars of political civility at a time when it’s most needed. They can gracefully agree to meet with someone they may oppose with their whole souls and stand in a room with him and grip his hand and then turn around and tell the world, this is what Americans do; even when we disagree, we shake. We don’t shoot.”
Here’s the thing, though — the Warriors shouldn’t feel obligated to do that.
They may have that “unique ability” but they don’t have to utilize it. This isn’t a negotiation over a trade deal, or a health care debate or a forum to fix the educational system in the country.
It’s just an odd, fake-feeling ceremony where a team is “honored,” but the president then somehow gets “honored” in return in the form of gifts like a jersey or a football helmet.
It’s probably the only occasion where the people receiving an award feel obligated to get the host something in return.
I used to feel really strongly about this issue and wrote a column a few years ago where I said that players shouldn’t play politics and should go as a team.
As is the case in many things in life, I looked back at that column the other day and I’ve changed my thinking.
When you get down to it, it’s all about choice. If the Warriors decide to go, that’s fine. People aren’t treating Clemson any differently, and head coach Dabo Swinney said that his players could have chosen not to go. If they’d rather make a point and not show up, that’s fine too.
It’s not the Warriors’ job to fix things or show us the “right path” or how to come together as a nation. If we need a team to show us that, then we’ve really hit the skids and even the talents of Golden State won’t dig us out.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext.252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.