For Americans who are not fans of the New England Patriots or their favorite politician, Super Bowl LII was a relief; unlike last year, they did not have to watch Tom Brady claw his way back to a victory, while simultaneously experiencing flashbacks to election night 2016. But politics were still present at the big game, from the outrage over Dodge using a Martin Luther King Jr. speech to sell trucks to Breitbart’s decision to mark the occasion with a racist tweet.
President Trump broke with a decade of tradition, opting not to give NBC a pre–Super Bowl interview (possibly because it’s one of his most hated networks). Of course, he could not resist the urge to reference one of his favorite controversies:
The jab felt a bit low-energy, particularly since it came just days after Trump used his platform at the State of the Union — and the story of a 12-year-old boy who started a campaign to honor veterans’ graves — to plug his feud with NFL players who protest during the national anthem.
Trump did manage to briefly act like a normal president after the game, congratulating the Eagles without lamenting his pal Tom Brady’s loss.
But there’s no off-season for Trump’s feuds. Several Eagles players have already said they intend to boycott the winning team’s traditional trip to the White House.
No one on the Eagles sat or kneeled during the national anthem this season, but several players raised their fists in protest, including Malcolm Jenkins, Torrey Smith, and Rodney McLeod. Jenkins led the Players Coalition, which secured a commitment from the NFL to provide $89 million over seven years to groups fighting inequality. Last week Jenkins and Smith said they did not intend to go to the White House if they won the Super Bowl.
“They call it the anthem protest,” Smith said on Wednesday. “We’re not protesting the anthem. It’s a protest during the anthem. I understand why people are mad, or may be offended when someone takes a knee.”
“My father when he dies, is going to be buried with an American flag draped around his casket, being that he served in the Army. I understand why some people are offended by it.”
Chris Long, who is white, voiced support for his teammates’ protests throughout the season. “For me, being from Charlottesville, no one wants to see you sit idly by and watch that stuff happen and not say anything,” Long said in the aftermath of the deadly white-supremacist demonstration in his hometown. “And I wish there was more categorical denial from some very important people in this country who have had the opportunity to strike it down but didn’t.”
Last week Long became the first Eagles player to announce he would boycott the celebration with Trump. “No, I’m not going to the White House,” he said on the Pardon My Take podcast. “Are you kidding me?”
Long and LeGarrette Blount, who were on the New England Patriots last season, both skipped Trump’s first reception with the Super Bowl champs. “I just don’t feel welcome into that house. I’m just gonna leave it at that,” Blount said at the time. More than two dozen Patriots skipped the event, though for some the decision wasn’t about politics (Brady cited “personal family matters”).
The Patriots said 34 players attended the April 2017 ceremony, which was similar to the turnout during their wins under President George W. Bush, but far fewer than the nearly 50 players who showed up for President Barack Obama in 2015. (Their spokesperson suggested turnout was lower for Trump because veteran players didn’t feel the need to be honored twice in three years.)
Still, plenty of players decided to boycott Trump last year, even before he spent half a season accusing NFL players of being unpatriotic for exercising their right to protest. The list of players boycotting this year’s White House event will almost certainly grow.