The Root has an exclusive confirming what eagle-eyed observers already may have noticed in those photos of Big Wet President’s fast-food feast for the national champion Clemson Tigers: A whole lot of people on the team didn’t want to go in the first place, and a good chunk of the team ended up not going at all.
By The Root’s numbers, about 74 percent of Clemson’s African-American players chose not to go to the White House. It was, according to the players, their choice: No one had to go to the White House, and coaches didn’t openly try to make players attend.
The players didn’t even have to vote or organize on the issue. It was just like, no, that’s not happening, and that was it. Most of the white players on Clemson’s roster, meanwhile, attended the White House visit — along with some African-American freshmen and sophomores who might not have felt like they could say no as easily as the upperclassmen and starters.
Clemson’s administration responded to the numbers in the story by mentioning graduating players, conflicting schedules, and the beginning of the spring semester’s classes as the reason for the partial crowd at Big Wet President’s Divorced Dad Din-Din. The classes part? That may be true for some of those who did not attend.
For one of the players quoted...it decidedly was not.
“So, you think players just wanted to go to classes so bad?” another sophomore member of the team asked rhetorically. “They told us it was up to us. Folk just didn’t want to go.”
It’s so damning that going to class in January was instantly preferable to a free visit to the White House. The ceremonial visit to the White House for any championship sports team is kind of strange in the best of times. With a wildly unpopular and erratic bigot in charge, the tradition transcends weirdness into something else entirely.
It also exceeds any ceremonial obligations the team felt like they might have had for one reason: There was no way for Clemson to win here either way. When Alabama went in 2018 after their playoff win, Nick Saban threw the whole team into it as “an honor”. Ever on message, the Tide’s players didn’t complain about it in media availability.
The photos were enough, though, to suggest that maybe this wasn’t the greatest trip for some members of the team.
Which: it probably wasn’t!
Clemson reportedly made a different choice and let players opt in or out. But even, then there’s a catch. Even if a team lets players choose whether they want to go or not, the overwhelmingly white squad showing up is an awkward look, especially so in a sport where most of the rosters are at least half African-American.
The whole point of any interaction with the Big Wet President is exactly that, though: To have no good options on entry or exit. By going, a team abets him in looking like something other than a hive-kicking bigot rancher using cultural touchstones like football to appear normal. By letting some stay home, Clemson will eventually serve as symbolic grudge-fodder to feed his base once the story eventually becomes public.
That point can’t really be emphasized enough here: There is no great option, and no ideal defense for this. There is one that puts the team first, however: to refuse to play at all, and instead decline a visit altogether.
It wouldn’t even have to come to an outright vote — a discussion which could be extremely bitter for everyone involved. It wouldn’t even be a matter of the coach’s personal politics, but one of the team’s overall chemistry, integrity, and development as a whole. If it comes up, then the coach could decide to simply not do it for a lot of reasons —- but mostly because a solid chunk of his players felt no ability to go and feel like anything but begrudgingly tolerated and thoroughly used props in a game they cannot win.
Hell, there is enough of that dynamic in college athletics already. Coaches always talk about buying into each other for the sake of the team. Well: What’s more of a buy-in than telling the leader of the free world on behalf of your players that you’re busy, and need to watch film or call recruits?
Oh, and also that the coach and the school won’t take the team anywhere where the whole team isn’t welcome? That’s pretty basic — or at least it should be.