South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley announced yesterday that her team would decline an invitation by President Donald Trump to visit the White House to celebrate their 2017 NCAA national championship.
For those of you who need a quick refresher, Trump rescinded a White House invitation to the Golden State Warriors in September after star point guard Steph Curry said he and his teammates chose not to visit the White House under Trump. Shortly thereafter, the national champion North Carolina men's basketball team said they, too, were declining an invitation to the White House. Somewhere along the line, a reporter asked Dawn Staley if her national championship team would be visiting the White House. She said her team had not received an invitation.
This stunned (or vindicated) many in both the sports world and the political world. Why would Trump not invite Staley's team? Did he and his staff just give up on teams with predominately black athletes? (The Gamecock women's basketball team is 100% African-American.) Did he decide these invitations were too much of a political headache and stop handing them out altogether? Needless to say, it wasn't a good look for Trump and it perpetuated the notion that he has a serious political problem with African-Americans. He does. And for good reason.
Yesterday Dawn Staley said her team had finally received their White House invitation, however, they would not be accepting.
"We did hear from the White House about attending tomorrow's event, but we will not be able to attend," Staley said in a statement. "As I've been saying since our practices for this season started, all of our focus is on the season ahead. The only invitation we are thinking about is to the 2018 NCAA tournament."
This is the right move.
It's painfully obvious that the invitation came only after public outcry and terrible publicity for Trump. The invitation was sent out to check a box, not to honor a great accomplishment. If the Lady Gamecocks accepted, they would be allowing Trump to use them to help repair his image. Trump's political team would love nothing more for Trump to hold a press conference surrounded by a couple dozen African-American women. But I think we can all agree that those national champion student athletes deserve more than to be used as a political prop.
It's a real shame, too. College athletes don't get a whole lot for their hard work. While their coaches and athletic directors enjoy million dollar salaries, student athletes are treated like indentured servants. A national championship is an accomplishment a player will celebrate his or her entire life. And going to the White House to celebrate that championship is a moment anyone, but especially a college student, would relish forever.
Those players deserved a White House invitation and they deserve a White House visit. But they don't deserve to be used to try and help solve Donald Trump's race problem. He's got to do that on his own through his actions, not obligatory invitations.