The Virginia Basketball Team From Charlottesville Has Declined a Championship Visit to the White House

They did so hours after Trump defended his 2017 comments calling white supremacist protestors “very fine people.”

Douglas Christian/ZUMA

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The University of Virginia’s men’s basketball team on Friday declined to visit the White House, forgoing a tradition often bestowed on championship sports teams. 

“We have received inquiries about a visit to the White House…We would have to respectfully decline an invitation,” the team’s coach, Tony Bennett, said in a statement on Twitter that cited the schedules of several players.  

The UVA campus is located in Charlottesville, Virginia, the site of a 2017 white supremacist rally that turned deadly when a neo-Nazi drove his car into a group of counter-protestors, killing one—Heather Heyer. Trump at the time said that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the rally, and again this past Friday he defended those comments, saying that he’d expressed himself “perfectly.” Trump told a group of reporters that his “very fine people” comment had been referring to people who attended the rally to protest the removal of the monument to Confederate general Robert E. Lee, who Trump called “a great general.” Earlier in the week, Trump’s comments in the wake of Charlottesville were back in the news after Joe Biden criticized them in a video announcing his bid for president. 

Bennett and the UVA basketball team made no reference to politics in their decision to decline a possible invitation to the White House—and it’s unclear if a formal invitation had yet been extended to the team. The Trump White House has made it a pattern to formalize invitations to sports teams only when it is clear that the team will accept—an increasingly rare occurrence of what was once a bipartisan presidential tradition. Trump has, for instance, withdrawn White House visit invitations to both the Golden State Warriors and the Philadelphia Eagles after members of their teams expressed qualms about visiting the White House. (The Warriors instead visited Barack Obama’s office when they visited DC earlier this year.) The president has also shown a tendency to favor athletes who have expressed support for him in the past.

The Warriors choice quickly became the de facto stance of professional basketball players, with LeBron James throwing his support behind the team that had defeated him in the championship the prior year, and praising Warriors star Stephen Curry for his public statement declining to visit the White House.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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