The Commercial Appeal

Some Patriots’ snub of visit to White House feels refreshing

- JARRETT BELL

After assaulting the record book during their dramatic comeback in Super Bowl LI, the New England Patriots are not done yet with the matter of making history.

The next “record” poised to collapse under the weight of the dynasty: White House rejections.

In a postscript to the thriller that marked the fifth Super Bowl victory during the Bill BelichickT­om Brady collaborat­ion, six players from the NFL’s freshest champion have already declared they won’t join the upcoming party at the White House to celebrate with President Trump.

Have six players from a Super Bowl winner ever skipped the trip to the ‘House? Hardly.

Yet with the Patriots’ three most powerful figures — team owner Robert Kraft, Belichick and Brady — aligned in some form or fashion with the polarizing President, this needs to happen.

Especially when Brady was a glaring no-show — for reason he hasn’t explained publicly — the last time the Patriots went to the White House and were hosted by President Obama.

Kraft likes to assert, “We are all Patriots!” amid the flow of accepting championsh­ip trophies. No problem with that. It’s an ideal sentiment that plays off his team’s nickname.

Let’s hope that Kraft — a lifelong Democrat — implores Trump to maintain that spirit of inclusiven­ess during their social visits, like the dinner Friday at the President’s resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

In the meantime, it’s refreshing to see that the “all Patriots” team includes some players with a conscious that illustrate­s a connection with so many people in the broader society. Trump may openly root for the Patriots and drop the names of Brady, Kraft and Belichick amid his political speeches, but at least there’s some resistance to the “Trump’s Team” narrative.

Let’s call them the Initial Six: Martellus Bennett. Devin McCourty. Chris Long. LeGarrette Blount. Alan Branch. Dont’a Hightower.

I’m guessing that by the time the yet-to-beschedule­d affair commences, the number of Patriot no-shows will grow. Super Bowl hero James White maintains he’s unsure if he’ll go, and will decide after the invite becomes official.

What a statement game this is, capping the end of an NFL season that in keeping pace with the nation at large was in many ways, “The Year of the Protest.”

While a couple of the players — Hightower and Branch — offered reasons for pulling out that were apolitical, the others left no illusions about their willingnes­s to take a stand. Or a pass.

McCourty, a team captain who might be the most respected Patriot in the locker room outside of Brady, said he doesn’t feel accepted in the White House. It’s a shame the affairs this nation have become so polarized and the rhetoric so vile that a citizen would express that.

“With the President having so many strong opinions and prejudices,” McCourty explained, “I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t.”

Blount echoed McCourty’s sentiment about not feeling welcomed, while Bennett — the first Patriot to make his intentions known about skipping the White House — urged people to follow him on Twitter and check out his tweets if they need more of an understand­ing of his view.

How fitting, given all the tweets that have come from Trump.

“It is what it is,” Bennett told reporters after Super Bowl LI. “People know how I feel about it.”

Long, meanwhile, didn’t mention Trump by name. But he tweeted that his decision had absolutely nothing to do with an open letter published to him that urged that he join African-Americans by skipping the White House.

No, Long, a ninth-year vet, doesn’t need suggestion­s from any of us. When protests by AfricanAme­rican players ramped up early in the season after Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem, Long offered a response that was largely missing — that he felt it was important for white players to speak out against societal injustice, too.

That he won’t go to the White House underscore­s that sentiment.

Brady, meanwhile, refused to get political during Super Bowl week, telling me, “I have a right to stay out of it,” even though he once displayed a “Make America Great Again” cap in his locker — which has been interprete­d by many as a statement in itself.

The first quarterbac­k to win five Super Bowls may not owe the world an explanatio­n about his political leanings. But in this climate, you’d think that Brady — who in the past has talked about his interest in following politics — would want to set the record straight about some of views.

Brady’s had a friendship with Trump over many years. So has Kraft, who points to Trump’s support during an emotional crisis after his wife Myra died in 2011 as a foundation for their bond.

Yet given the issues and the actions by Trump that have sparked protests and various forms of resistance, Kraft by not distancing himself from the politics could have his position interprete­d as tacit approval.

So Brady has a big opportunit­y in front of him, too — even if he visits the White House this time.

In the meantime, the Patriot Way rolls on as the records keep falling.

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