Chris Long and the politics of the Super Bowl

Photo: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

If the Philadelphia Eagles win the Super Bowl next Sunday and are invited by President Donald Trump to the White House, Chris Long won’t be there.

The veteran defensive end said in an interview with the Pardon My Take podcast Monday that he would decline the invitation. Long also did not participate when his previous team, the New England Patriots, was invited to the White House after they won last year’s Super Bowl; the Patriots are the Eagles’ opponent on Sunday. Amid some rather salty and off-color comments on various NFL-related topics, Long got into the political question.

“No, I’m not going to the White House,” Long told hosts Dan “Big Cat” Katz and PFT Commenter. “Are you kidding me?”

After the interview, Long seemed surprised that his statement had been such a big deal:

In making that declaration, Long once again joins a number of other athletes who have skipped White House visits over disagreements with the president — most notably the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, who opted to forgo their Rose Garden photo op altogether last year.

Interestingly, President Trump did not tweet any sort of retort or insult at Long, as he previously did at Lebron James, Stephen Curry and various other “ungrateful” athletes; see if you can spot the pattern in his choice of whether to do so.

Long, the son of NFL-legend-turned-announcer Howie Long, made headlines a few time this year for reasons unrelated to his hard-nosed play: he donated all of his game paychecks to charity, and he also put his arm around his teammate Malcolm Jenkins while Jenkins raised a fist during the National Anthem to protest racial injustice throughout the NFL season.

I wrote last month about how in Philadelphia, unlike many NFL cities, the anthem controversy has been a minor issue for most of the NFL season. This has mostly been a function of the team’s winning season, and the unwillingness of even conservative fans to put political disagreements with Jenkins and Long ahead of their fandom.

With Long again opting to skip the (theoretical) ceremony, there’s probably going to be some temptation to line up this year’s Super Bowl as a Democrat/Republican political proxy battle. However, this narrative would be an over-simplification.

True, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been photographed with a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft is a Trump pal who even gave the president a Super Bowl ring last year (which means Trump will have a matching set with his role model Vladimir Putin; bizarrely, Putin allegedly stole Kraft’s Super Bowl ring in 2005). Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, by contrast, is one of the only NFL owners whose politics could be described as left-of-center.

But there’s more to the story than that. We don’t know the political views of all or even most of the players, but Sports Illustrated reported in early 2017 that all but two of the white players on the Eagles at the time voted for Trump. The Patriots represent New England — a region that, save for New Hampshire and part of Maine, went entirely blue in the 2016 election, while Pennsylvania voted for Trump.

Even Brady seems to have distanced himself from the president; he didn’t appear at last season’s White House ceremony, either.

This NFL season, due in part to the president’s decision in September to declare war on kneeling players, has been more about politics and culture wars than any other in recent history. A lot of fans really hate that, leading to all sorts of demands to “get the politics out of my football”  and “stick to sports.”

But if Chris Long helps lead the Eagles to their first Super Bowl win ever, I can’t imagine even the most right-wing local fan minding if he skips the White House ceremony.