Jan 21, 2021 - Sports

Trump's exit could spell return for White House sports traditions

Joe Biden.
Then-Vice President Joe Biden at a game between the Army-Navy football game on December 8, 2012. Photo: Hunter Martin/Getty Images

The Biden administration is unlikely to leverage sports as a culture war in the same way that President Trump's did.

The big picture: The longstanding tradition of champions visiting the White House — dating back to the 1860s but becoming a more regular practice in the past half century — changed significantly in the past four years.

  • By the numbers: Just one of the 14 major basketball champions under Trump visited the White House, and most weren't even invited.
  • Across other sports, champions who did accept their invitations were put under a cultural and political microscope. Which players opted out of the visit, and why, tended to dominate the storyline.
  • Moreover, some teams used their snubs as an opportunity to make not-so-subtle statements. The 2018 Warriors, for example, toured the National Museum of African American History and Culture before hanging out with President Obama at his D.C. office.

We don't know how Biden will proceed, but the two presidents' vastly different relationship to sports offers interesting insight.

  • Trump has long used sports for professional and political gain. He owned a team in the fledgling USFL and has 17 golf courses around the world; 14 of 24 Medals of Freedom he awarded went to sports figures; his vitriol toward Colin Kaepernick and the NFL spanned his entire term.
  • Biden has a more sentimental view of athletics. He's long used sports for personal growth, crediting them with instilling the confidence to overcome his stutter and delivering his family a sense of healing over the years.

Between the lines: The sports headlines these men choose to engage with, and the manner in which they do so, speaks volumes.

The bottom line: After the election was called for Biden in November, Draymond Green and LeBron James traded tweets to celebrate the White House's pending return as a champions' destination. The tide, it seems, is turning.

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