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Racial divides on display as Red Sox players of color boycott White House visit

Longstanding U.S. tradition sees champions in many sports visit the White House as a celebratory honor. But in this bitterly polarized era, meeting the president is no longer a routine practice. Many star athletes have opted out of the experience based on their political and philosophical perspectives. Yamiche Alcindor talks to Kevin Blackistone of The Washington Post and ESPN about the divide.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sports champions, as we have seen, frequently visit the White House, but, in this divided political time and with bitterly polarized attitudes about President Trump, it is no longer a routine practice.

    As Yamiche Alcindor reports, many famous players are taking action off the field.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    A moment of a celebration for some of the Boston Red Sox.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The 2018 Red Sox never gave up and never backed down.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For others, it was a White House boycott. That's because some members of the 2018 World Series championship team didn't show up for the traditional White House visit.

    Even Red Sox manager Alex Cora choose not to attend. He's from Puerto Rico. And, today, he told a radio show, he's troubled by President Trump's response to Hurricane Maria.

  • Alex Cora:

    I'm the guy that has lived it. I'm the guy down there in the off-season. I understand how it is. And I just don't feel right going and celebrating while people are struggling back home.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    On display today, a stark racial divide. Most white players came, but all but one team's black and Latino players, like star pitcher David Price and MVP Mookie Betts, didn't.

    The event comes as President Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Tiger Woods on Monday. Events like today's have long been a bipartisan White House tradition.

  • Barack Obama:

    Thanks for salvaging my bracket.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But President Trump's past statements, especially tied to race, have led to deep divides among athletes about attending. Some still come to White House ceremonies, but many of the most well-known players in sports have not.

    In 2017, the president publicly criticized quarterback Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem. That same year, the reigning NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors, said they would boycott the White House visit. President Trump claimed he disinvited them.

    And a visit by the 2018 Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, was canceled after of number of players said they wouldn't attend.

    Let's explore this divide a bit more. The Red Sox visit today is just one chapter in President Trump's tense relationship with some athletes.

    To talk about this, I'm joined by Kevin Blackistone, who is a national sports columnist for The Washington Post, a regular contributor to ESPN, and a professor of journalism at the University of Maryland.

    Thanks so much, Kevin, for being here.

    There is a split here. Some Red Sox players showed up to the White House. Others chose not to come.

    What do you make of that? And what does it say about what these sports events at the White House have become under President Trump?

  • Kevin Blackistone:

    Well, just when President Trump was elected, I did a video column over at The Washington Post about this very issue, about the tradition of sports teams and champions coming to the White House.

    And I said then — and I think I would certainly amplify it again now — that if you believe that sports are some sort of elixir for all the ills that are in our society, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, then it would be disingenuous was for you, as a sportsman or sportswoman, to accept an invitation to congratulate you for a championship from this president.

    And I think that's what you saw borne out more starkly in this Boston Red Sox have been than any other, because, in other instances, either teams have not gone, or either teams have been disinvited. But, this time, half the team showed up and half the team didn't, basically in protest.

    And the racial division was so stark, that it just couldn't be ignored.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Earlier in the year, the Clemson University football team also visited the White House. Most of the black players there didn't show up. Most of the white players did show up.

    What do you make of that racial divide, given the history of the United States?

  • Kevin Blackistone:

    Well, I think that this president has returned us to a time when we thought about how divisive things were between black folks and white folks in this country, or, maybe in this case, expand it to people of color and white folks in this country.

    And I think, if you look at what happened with Clemson, or certainly if you look at what happened with the Red Sox, it's very clear. And I think it's important to point out people of color, because a lot of people talk about baseball not having as many black players as it used to.

    But you know who didn't come to this White House? The progeny of enslaved Africans from this country, the progeny of enslaved Africans from the Caribbean, the progeny of enslaved Africans from South America. They all didn't come.

    So, in one way, it created some unity, I think, among black American players and black players from the Caribbean and from South America. But it also, once again, just underscored how divisive the politics are under this particular administration.

    You heard Alex Cora talking about his concern about Puerto Rico and what has happened to Puerto Rico under this — under this presidency after it was struck by the hurricane. And we know how many black players have felt about this presidency's approach to matters concerning the Black Lives Matters movement.

    And so all of this has really come to a head in this event.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    There's also this issue of Tiger Woods. He got honored at the White House earlier this week. What does him being honored mean, you think, for this issue going forward?

  • Kevin Blackistone:

    We know that President Trump and Tiger Woods have a long history on the golf course.

    And so I think that President Trump saw this as an opportunity to wrap himself in the glow of the moment of Tiger Woods. And we know that Tiger Woods has had a very spotty record when it comes to speaking out on political matters, whether it was about women being admitted to Augusta or whether it was about other issues.

    In fact, he didn't stand up for President Obama until after President Obama was elected. So, that was a — this was an issue for Tiger Woods and for the president that I think a lot of people understood the ramifications of.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, thank you so much for joining us, Kevin Blackistone.

  • Kevin Blackistone:

    Thank you.

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