When the president hosted the national-champion Clemson football team with a “hamberder” spread placed on 19th-century silver trays, he noted the “great guys and big eaters” present in the State Dining Room of the White House. However, Trump failed to notice that the majority of the team’s black players chose not to attend the crinkly-bag food dinner.
According to a new report from the Root — coming two weeks after the initial banquet took place on January 14 — almost three-fourths of Clemson’s black players declined Trump’s invitation, citing the president’s racism and disapproval of his divisive behavior as reasons not to attend. The Root spoke with three black players who confirmed that many team members, both black and white, showed no interest in the White House visit — though on the night of the fast food dinner, most of Clemson’s white players did attend. “It wasn’t like we had a team meeting or anything,” said a Clemson offensive player. “Players were talking amongst each other but everybody was like: ‘I’m not going to that.’”
Of the 15 black players who did go to D.C., 11 were freshmen or sophomores, which one defensive player reportedly took as a sign that they were not in a position to say no to the trip, because they were trying to impress coaches as they sought out more playing time, or because scholarship money could have been in play. “Not saying anything against the players who went,” said a black junior on the team, “but if you look at who went — freshman [sic] and people fighting for playing time — you’ll see what I’m talking about.”
There is a long history of athletes declining invitations to the White House, though during the Trump administration, the practice has been employed way more frequently. In the last two years, the Philadelphia Eagles, Golden State Warriors, some prominent winter Olympians, and the University of North Carolina and Villanova championship basketball teams have all skipped the visit, or were not invited to meet with Trump. In 2018, Adam Rippon, the Olympic figure skater who said he did not think he would be welcome at the White House because he is gay, provided a general philosophy for the athletes who’ve passed on the photo opp: “I will not stand with people who discriminate.”
Of the 57 black players eligible to attend, only 15 accepted the White House’s invitation, causing some to question why no outlet had reported on the significant no-show. Perhaps it was the Kubrickian nightmare tone of the dinner’s images, or because Trump promptly lied about how many hamburgers he bought on his own dime, or because the visit occurred during a tumultuous and record-length shutdown. Or, it’s because this is the kind of institutional blindness that endures in media outlets when newsrooms are 83.4 percent white and POC perspectives are largely absent: It takes a couple weeks — and a black columnist, Michael Harriot — for people to notice that what should have been a more visibly black event was stripped of color.