President Donald Trump, amid his public feud with the NBA and NFL, will welcome the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to the White House on Tuesday.
The visit comes as Trump slams the NFL over players kneeling during the National Anthem and the NBA after members of the champion Golden State Warriors told reporters they weren’t interested in the traditional visit to the White House.
Trump’s White House has seized on the NFL controversy, slamming the league for allowing the public protest to happen. After the President labeled any player who kneels a “son of a bitch,” league-wide protests broke out against Trump himself, with owners and teams kneeling in defiance of the President.
The comments have thrust Trump and his presidency forcefully into the intersection of politics, sports and culture, with Trump using the issue to stir up his base. Tuesday’s visit from the NHL champions will likely give the President a platform with which to air his grievances with other leagues.
Sidney Crosby, captain of the Penguins, told The Associated Press on Monday that “there’s absolutely no politics involved” in their visit.
“Hopefully, it stays that way,” Crosby said. “It’s a visit we’ve done in the past. It’s been a good experience. It’s not about politics, that’s for sure.”
The Trump administration’s feud with the NFL escalated even further on Sunday when Vice President Mike Pence left a game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers after some players knelt during the playing of the National Anthem.
“I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem,” Pence wrote on Twitter.
Trump tweeted afterward that he asked Pence to leave the stadium if people protested, leading members of the 49ers to accuse Pence of a PR stunt.
Those views were compounded by the fact that Pence aides told the traveling press corps to stay in their vans as Trump went to the game because the vice president may depart early from the stadium.
Trump has long drawn the ire of sports stars, including LeBron James, who campaigned for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election.
Trump recently feuded with two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry over whether the champion Golden State Warriors would visit the White House.
Curry flatly told reporters last month that he did not want to go to the White House.
In response, Trump tweeted that he withdrew the Warriors’ invitation, despite the fact that multiple players had already said they didn’t want to go.
James, in response to the feud, called Trump a “bum.”
“@StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!” James tweeted.
Trump’s most fiery comments about sports protests came during a rally in Alabama in September.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired,'” Trump said. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it (but) they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
The comment drew widespread condemnation from sports stars and NFL owners, some of whom joined their players on the field to lock arms during the national anthem in defiance of the President.
“The behavior of the President is unacceptable and needs to be addressed,” Seattle Seahawks star Richard Sherman tweeted in response. “If you do not Condemn this divisive Rhetoric you are Condoning it!!”