It wasn’t long after the confetti fell at Amelie Arena in Tampa over the 2019 National Champion Baylor Lady Bears before I began to wonder whether the team would be invited, and accept the invitation to appear at the White House with President Trump. Up to this point, no other women’s National Champion had accepted the invitation, following the lead of several men’s college and professional championship teams. Though there is a history of teams declining invites to the White House for various reasons, most in the Trump era have avoided the opportunity for a fairly simple reason: He’s a racist.
Though his racial history goes way back, and was on full display in June of 2015 when he descended an escalator to declare that Mexicans seeking a better life in the U.S. are rapists, it really rose to the forefront with regards to sports in 2017 when he inserted himself into the Colin Kaepernick kneeling controversy. In true narcissist fashion, he made the issue about him, suggesting that anyone who knelt in solidarity with Kaepernick in protesting racial injustice couldn’t stand with him. He led the chorus in vilifying anyone who even suggested there is still racial injustice occurring in our country which, naturally, drew the attention of NFL and NBA teams, as well as college football and basketball programs, most of which have disproportionally more African Americans than the general population.
In 2017 Trump disinvited the Golden State Warriors after their star, and Kaepernick supporter, Steph Curry, indicated he would not be in attendance. Since then teams have been disinvited, not invited, invited but declined, and a handful have accepted the invitation.
For those who have decided to make the trip to the White House, the reason has been, either stated or implied, that this is an honor that transcends politics, and is about the team, not Donald Trump. To forego the trip would be a dishonor. I assume this was at play when Kim Mulkey indicated that she would accept a White House invitation, which put things in motion for this week’s visit.
As a Lady Bear fan, I was ok with this as long as it was a team decision. An argument could be made for going or not going, but I had hoped those pros and cons would have been weighed and decided by the players themselves. I don’t know what that process looked like. It’s possible that this was a team decision based on any number of factors. At the same time, these girls are all digital natives and are very adept at leaving clues, both in full view and well hidden, about what they felt about the visit. At least one I have seen was positive, several were not.
The response in the Baylor Twitterverse and message boards has been mixed. Since “Big Baylor” in general, and Lady Bears fans in particular, skews conservative, there is predictably a strong sentiment out there that accepting the invitation was the right thing to do, and any pushback on that by the players was unbecoming and disrespectful.
This sentiment is misguided and hypocritical in Trump’s America. It comes from a myth that it is possible to be non-political with Donald Trump as President.
From “Mexicans are rapists”to Kaepernick, from the Muslim ban to defying his generals with regards to transgender men and women serving in the military, from every damn lie and every demeaning tweet, Donald Trump has unabashedly and unashamedly billed himself as the President who will “bust up the norms” of our system. His supporters celebrate this and cite it as one of the primary reasons they voted for him. Those who are neutral on his rhetoric but supportive of his policies see it as a necessary (or at least tolerable) aspect of his Presidency.
Well, one of the norms of our system has always been a sense of decorum, times and places where we “rise above politics” to celebrate ceremonial and dignified aspects of our public life together. Anyone cheering on, or remaining neutral to Trump’s “busting up the system” is not allowed to, under the basic rules of honesty and integrity, complain or be disappointed when others do not operate within the former guidelines of that busted up system.
Ironically, the only people in Trump’s America who can lay claim to “rising above politics” are those who do it from a place of resistance. These can stand in the Oval Office because of the history and pageantry of the place, but refuse to ease the tension by smiling when they don’t want to. They can take the opportunity to visit the nation’s capital, while at the same time leaving clues about how they feel about the leader of the nation.
As a Lady Bear fan, I’m proud of the season they had and the way they represented Baylor and Waco. I’m equally proud of how they carried themselves while standing before a man whose policies, rhetoric, and incitement have made life in this country more difficult for them. They stood in power, and didn’t blink.