Growing up a big fan of the Golden State Warriors, I always watched with envy when championship teams visited the White House. You see, the Warriors were not close to good enough to win a title when I was a kid, so them getting to meet the president was more of a pipe dream than a realistic goal. Still, it was something I wanted to see. If you would have told 10-year-old me that in the year 2017, the Warriors would win the title but not visit the White House, I would’ve been very confused. How did my awful franchise become good enough to win a championship? What happened with the president that they didn’t get an invite when literally every single championship-winning team in my lifetime has?
The answer to both questions is Stephen Curry. He is a transcendent basketball player who turned the Warriors from a laughingstock to a dynasty. And he was also the subject of President Donald Trump’s tweet at 5:45 a.m. last Saturday, in which Trump mentioned Curry by name and “withdrew” the invitation — though none had officially been issued — to visit the White House because Curry was “hesitating.”
It was an abrupt end to a budding controversy and the elephant in the room that had surrounded the Warriors since they clinched the trophy in June, considering several key members had made their distaste for the president clear. In February, Curry responded to a comment by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank that Trump was an “asset” by claiming he was, but only if you removed the “-et” from the word. In May, head coach Steve Kerr called Trump a “blowhard” that is “ill-suited” for the presidency.
Nonetheless, the Warriors were considering a visit, making plans to discuss it as a team and even having conversations with senior White House officials to see if they could work something out. But with 140 characters, Trump did the equivalent of dumping a prom date who never agreed to go with him in the first place, hoping to seem strong.
Instead, his decision sparked fierce social media backlash and widespread condemnation across the sports world. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James called Trump a “bum,” adding that “going to the White House was a great honor until [Trump] showed up.” Retired NBA legend Kobe Bryant lashed out in a tweet saying Trump’s attacks wouldn’t “make America great.” Chicago Bulls forward Robin Lopez had the line of the night, claiming that in a few months, Trump “probably won’t be able to visit the White House either.”
In all honesty — and as Kerr said in a story in Sports Illustrated on Sunday — the Warriors probably weren’t going to visit the White House anyway. And there were those pundits who called out the team for injecting politics into sports, for disrespecting the office of the president of the United States. Championship-winning teams have visited the White House since President Ronald Reagan made it a regular occurrence. The presidential visit has become ingrained in sports tradition. It’s supposedly a day when everyone sets aside their political differences to hang out in the White House and meet the president, which, on the surface, doesn’t seem like a very controversial thing to do.
But to do so under this president seems different. No president in recent memory has created as much tension and division as Trump. This is a president who kicked off his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists,” endorsed police brutality and had to be coerced into a half-hearted condemnation of neo-Nazis and white supremacists while at the same time claiming that some white nationalists, were, in fact, “very fine people.”
On Friday, while speaking at a rally in Huntsville, Ala., Trump railed against NFL players protesting police brutality and racial inequality by taking a knee during the national anthem before games, calling on the NFL to fire any “son of a b—-” who did so. Trump continued his assault, sending out eight tweets about the league over the weekend and three more early on Monday that ranged from castigating NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — who put out a strong statement pushing back against Trump — to advocating that fans stop watching games until players who kneeled were “fired or suspended.”
Under the shadow of a president who clearly does not understand the concept of peaceful protest, has enacted policies and has made divisive statements that have a clear adverse effect on minorities — who are omnipresent in both the NBA and NFL — it is totally acceptable to not want to visit the White House. And for those who want athletes to “stick to sports,” perhaps the president should “stick to politics” first.
If anything, Trump’s decision to wade into sports is only going to unite players against him. More than 200 NFL players didn’t stand for the anthem during Sunday’s games in direct defiance of Trump. The Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks — and in the WNBA, the Los Angeles Sparks — remained in the locker room before Game 1 of the Finals on Sunday, leaving the court before the anthem. On Saturday, about 40 miles from where Colin Kaepernick started the entire movement a year ago, the Oakland Athletics’ catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player in the 148-year history of baseball to take a knee during the national anthem — and baseball, mind you, is “America’s pastime.”
While the Warriors won’t be visiting the White House this year, I’ve never been prouder of my team — even prouder than when they won two championships in three seasons — for using their platforms as famous athletes to take a stand for what they believe is right, and prioritizing morality over tradition.
Eric He is a junior majoring in journalism. He is also the associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. “Trojan Talk” is a guest column that typically runs every other week.