The White House is one of the most popular destinations for tourists in America. But it’s not only tourists, foreign leaders and our government who get to visit the White House.
Throughout the history of sports in America, many athletes have gotten the chance to head to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and shake hands with the President of the United States, whether it be because they won a championship in their sport or since the athlete was a personal favorite of the President at the time.
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, athletes have been visiting the White House since Andrew Johnson was in office, back in 1865.
[singlepic id=1535 w=320 h=240 float=right]
Although it has been happening for over 100 years, it’s estimated that the tradition really gained popularity when former President Ronald Reagan was in office in the mid 1980s.
With media outlets gaining massive popularity in the 1980s, the tradition of bringing championship teams to the White House also gained popularity. Ronald Reagan also happened to be a sports fanatic.
A writer from MadameNoire.com, Mark Anthony Neal said, “What better opportunity is there than the President of the so-called most powerful nation in the World, meeting with the ‘champions’ of the world?”
Although athletes meeting and greeting the President of the United States seems to be of popular practice, issues have arisen over the years.
Writer Mark Anthony Neal reported that in 2005, a group of athletes from the Northwestern University’s national champion Women’s Lacrosse team sported flip flops to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The event garnered so much negative publicity that it was nicknamed “Flip Flop gate.”
The Chicago Tribune reported the story with a headline that read, “You wore flip-flops to the White House?” according to Mark Anthony Neal.
Another issue that has seemed to interest national media outlets is the fact that some athletes have refused to attend the White House with their respective teams for whatever reason.
In recent years, after the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, MVP and starting goaltender of the team, Tim Thomas refused to meet with the President of the United States when his team traveled to D.C. for the event.
Thomas announced his decision to decline the invitation through his Facebook account days before the event took place.
The Washington Post reported, “In a statement on Facebook, Thomas cited his belief that ‘the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties and Property of the People.’ For that reason, Thomas said, ‘I exercised my right as a Free Citizen. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country.’”
Personally, I understand Tim Thomas’ reasoning for not wanting to be a part of the White House visit. But it’s not like Barack Obama was going to take Thomas into the “Situation Room” and discuss foreign policy with him. Thomas was going to be there to snap a few pictures.
In response to Thomas declining the invitation, reporter from the Boston Globe, Kevin Paul Dupont said, “He had a chance to tell the leader of the free world what he thinks it means to be an American today.”
Although Thomas’ actions were highly critiqued by members of the media in the U.S., he is not the only athlete to decline an invitation to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
According to writer Mark Anthony Neal, arguably the best basketball player to ever play the game, Michael Jordan, also skipped out on a White House visit following his first NBA championship.
Neal said that Jordan declined the invitation in order to vacation with his family.
You’d assume that the White House, being one of the busiest buildings in America doesn’t have much time to spend on professional and amateur athletes of all shapes and sizes.
But on one very busy day, in late September, President Barack Obama welcomed over 400 Olympians that competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
ESPN.com reported that just days after the U.S. ambassador and three American consulates working in Libya were assassinated, Obama played host to the U.S. Olympians.
ESPN.com writer, Bonnie D. Ford said, “For one sunny hour on the South Lawn, close to 400 athletes basked in the afterglow of their achievements this summer in London. The president called himself the ‘Fan-in-Chief’ who taped events so he could watch them at the end of his long workdays.”
Among the few athletes I’ve discussed are hundreds of thousands of other athletes who have visited the White House throughout the history of sports.
In 2008, President Barack Obama showed the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants around the White House. During their visit, wide receiver, Victor Cruz said, “Just to be at the White House and meeting the president, it was just one of those experiences that I will never let go. To see all the different rooms, all the history that is in this room, to think that there were 43 other presidents that were in here that shared this building with [Obama].”
Although not all athletes have taken advantage of the unique opportunity like Victor Cruz did, they are still champions in their own respects.
According to SportsIllustrated.com, these athletes include; Joe DiMaggio (1953), the 1963 and 1984 Boston Celtics, Stan Musial (1962), Terry Bradshaw (1970), Muhammad Ali (1974), the 1996 Dallas Cowboys, the 2002 New England Patriots and many more.
Michelle Berthiaume can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org