President Joe Biden welcomed the Los Angeles Dodgers to the White House on Friday to celebrate their 2020 World Series win with a cheerful ceremony that represented a stark departure from the heavily politicized gatherings of professional sports teams under former President Donald Trump.
Speaking from the East Room in an event attended by Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, Biden said the Dodgers were “a lot more than a baseball club” — describing the championship-winning team as “a pillar of American culture and American progress,” and invoking the barrier-breaking Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson.
The president also addressed the shadow that the coronavirus cast over the most recent MLB season. But in the darkest days of the pandemic, “I think what we discovered is that we need sports more than we ever realized,” Biden told the players.
“When we go through a crisis, very often, sports brings us together to heal. To help us feel like things are going to be okay. Are going to get better,” he said. “For a few hours each day, feeling, sensing and experiencing something familiar. Something normal. Something that’s fun in the middle of the chaos. And believing that we’re going to get back to all that we’re missing. And we’re going to get back to it soon.”
The nonpartisan nature of Biden’s remarks, as well as the amicable terms of the Dodgers’ visit, were markedly dissimilar from the vast majority of the ceremonies Trump hosted at the White House for championship sports teams over the past four years. Under the previous administration, such events had emerged as cultural flashpoints often intertwined with the controversial issues of politics, protests and race.
In September 2017 — a month after his infamous “both sides” assessment of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. — Trump mounted a days-long campaign against professional football players who knelt during the national anthem and disinvited Steph Curry, star of the NBA championship-winning Golden State Warriors, from attending a White House ceremony.
Curry had already indicated he would not take part in the customary event, and LeBron James — then with the Cleveland Cavaliers — responded to the controversy by calling Trump a “bum” who “doesn’t understand the power that he has for being a leader of this beautiful country.”
Trump also disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles from traveling to the White House in 2018 — a day before their scheduled visit — after it became clear that only a handful of the championship NFL team’s players were planning to attend. And even before the 2018 NBA finals between the Cavaliers and the Warriors was decided, both James and Curry declared they would not visit Trump’s White House for the traditional meeting.
In June 2019, amid the final days of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe said in an interview that she was “not going to the f—ing White House” if the American team triumphed — prompting Trump to attack her on Twitter and extend an invitation to all the squad’s players, “win or lose.” The U.S. women’s team went on to clinch the championship, but a White House visit never materialized.
Although the MLB championship-winning Boston Red Sox did participate in a trip to the White House in 2019, only a portion of the team appeared beside Trump in Washington. Nearly every player of color skipped the ceremony, including manager and Puerto Rico native Alex Cora, who criticized the administration’s handling of hurricane relief efforts in the U.S. territory.
There were few signs of political discord at the event on Friday, however, which was also attended by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. But Biden did allude to friction within the first family and split loyalties between the second couple when it came to the subject of professional baseball.
“We have — when you talk about mixed families — I’ve got a mixed family, and she’s got a mixed family, based on baseball and sports,” Biden said in reference to the vice president, who is a fan of the San Francisco Giants. The second gentleman supports the Dodgers.
“I’m not going to mention that team in northern California in the San Francisco area. And I’m not going to mention that team in Philadelphia,” Biden added. “My wife is a Philly girl from her belt buckle to her shoe soles. And if I root for anybody but the Phillies, I’ll be sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom alone.”
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