On Friday evening, the University of Virginia men’s basketball team announced that it would not be visiting the White House to celebrate its national championship.
“We have received inquiries about a visit to the White House. With several players either pursuing pro opportunities or moving on from UVA, it would be difficult, if not impossible to get everyone back together,” head coach Tony Bennett said in a statement. “We would have to respectfully decline an invitation.”
The university is located in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a deadly white supremacist rally took place two summers ago. President Donald Trump infamously responded to that rally by saying that there had been “very fine people on both sides” — drawing an equivalence between the group wielding torches and screaming “Jews will not replace us,” and the people there protesting the hateful slogans.
While Bennett did not mention the president or politics in his statement, it was released just hours after Trump once again defended his comments on Charlottesville.
“I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee,” Trump told reporters on Friday. “People there were protesting the taking down of the monument to Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that.”
It is unclear if Trump ever formally extended an invitation to the Cavaliers. It is customary for teams that win championships on the collegiate and professional level to be invited to the White House for a celebratory photo opportunity. However, in the age of Trump, it seems that the White House does not even send a formal invitation unless it is clear the team will accept it.
For example, Trump has not invited a single women’s national championship team for a solo celebration at the White House during his time in office. However, after the Baylor women’s basketball team won the national championship in April, head coach Kim Mulkey made it well known that she would be honored to visit the White House. On Monday, the Baylor Bears will have that opportunity.
In 2018, Trump abruptly cancelled a ceremony featuring the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles less than 24 hours before the event, after it was reported that only a handful of Eagles players were actually going to attend.
Earlier this year, the Clemson football team did attend the White House to celebrate their national championship. Trump marked the occasion by serving them Big Macs.