Dawn Staley made it clear.
“National champions go, and I’m going to go,” she said.
The parade and net-cutting and signage and a barrage of congratulatory messages were terrific, but there’s one thing left on the schedule. National championship teams have traditionally been invited to visit the White House and meet the president, and although the invitation hasn’t yet been extended, Staley expects one to arrive some day.
Normally, it wouldn’t be a question. These aren’t normal times. Several athletes have been asked before championship events whether they’d visit Donald Trump’s White House and many hesitated with a “maybe” or flat-out refused.
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If South Carolina is invited, Staley’s going. Like she always does with situations that arise, she’ll let her players decide what they want to do.
“We’ll give the players the option – if they don’t want to go, we’re not going to force them to go,” Staley said. “But I’m going.”
Trump already has welcomed two teams to the White House, and Clemson’s national champion football team is set to visit on Monday. The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots visited in April with several players, including game MVP Tom Brady, not attending, but reasons varied.
Brady cited family issues, something he also did when he didn’t travel to meet with President Obama. Danny Amendola was at a funeral, and Dont’a Hightower didn’t see the need to go again after visiting with national champion Alabama.
Others such as LeGarrette Blount, Alan Branch, Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty said they didn’t feel welcome in the White House because of Trump’s past behavior and statements. They echoed several other coaches and players who were asked whether they’d visit before they even won championships.
Connecticut’s women’s basketball team made a habit of visiting Obama in the White House, going six times in eight years after a dominating run of national titles. Coach Geno Auriemma, who also visited Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said boosters often would complain of the politics of each but that all went away once the president stuck out his hand.
That’s changed. Auriemma was asked last season whether he’d feel comfortable visiting Trump.
He replied that after winning 11 national championships and never being asked that question, the answer didn’t matter. That he was asked this time meant something unusual was going on.
USC men’s coach Frank Martin was asked the same question during the Final Four. Martin, the son of Cuban immigrants, answered that we all live in the United States, and he wasn’t visiting an individual’s home, he was visiting an office.
“It’s the way I express it to our team,” Martin said. “We’re visiting the top building that represents the great country that’s given every single one of us an opportunity. That’s the way I would look at it.”
Those teams didn’t win titles. Staley’s squad did. The Gamecocks deserve everything that goes with a national championship, including stitching a special No. 45 jersey with “Trump” on the nameplate.
Which they look forward to presenting to the president in person.
“No, we haven’t got the invite yet,” Staley said. “But I’m going.”
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