On the day before the champion New England Patriots visited the White House to celebrate their winning Super Bowl game, Politico published a hit piece smearing the team as representatives of the racist, white nationalist “alt-right” movement.
For Politico, author Ben Strauss began his April 18 piece engaging in a bit of guilt by association, by noting that now notorious alt-right leader Richard Spencer tweeted a message saying “rooting for the Pats!” According to Strauss, Spencer was drawn to the team because of the team’s white quarterback who threw to a trio of white wide receivers.
Strauss also attacked the Patriots for being President Donald Trump’s favorite team, as if taking for granted that anything Trump likes must therefore be racist and evil.
The author claimed that after the Patriots won an incredible fifth Super Bowl, Spencer gleefully told him that, “It was like the alt-right won the Super Bowl.”
Strauss insisted that because a small group of fringe actors decided to glom onto the Patriots as their own, and because a long list of liberal members of the sports media continued pressuring various members of the team to denounce President Trump, thereby distracting from their win with left-wing political narratives, the team was “unavoidably linked with a divisive political moment.”
Strauss next rehashed the accusation that the Pats somehow have too many white wide receivers on the team, as if wide receivers are not allowed to be white in the NFL. This accusation has bounced around the sports media for some time and is a charge “mostly chuckled about by sports writers,” according to ESPN’s Bomani Jones.
According to Strauss, the continued racial argument amongst sports reporters is a key element in helping Spencer use the Pats to fuel his white nationalism. “The idea is to take a kernel of truth and transform it,” Spencer said. “That comment doesn’t work if I say Bob Marley is the band of the alt-right, just like the Super Bowl doesn’t work if I say the Falcons are the team of the alt-right.” A smile spread across his face. “It’s because people were already thinking about race — consciously or subconsciously — that we turned the Super Bowl into a propaganda bonanza,” he said.
Still, even as Strauss and Spencer are using the Patriots to fuel racial tension, Strauss also found an African American activist who said the whole thing was “unfair” to the Patriots.
Dr. Richard Lapchick, a professor at the University of Central Florida’s business school who publishes a yearly racial and gender report card for all the major professional leagues, told Strauss that the racial makeup of the Patriots is not really out of line with the league average. “What I can tell you is that if you follow the Patriots over the years, their percentage of African-Americans is consistent with the league,” Lapchick revealed.
Despite the fact that Spencer’s narrative was essentially debunked by the statistics noted by Dr. Lapchick, the Politico writer maintained that the Patriots are still both an NFL and a political football, because as the Pats prepared for their visit to the White House, “the politics of the moment will be impossible to miss.”
Indeed, the day after Politico published Strauss’ story, CNN tried to use photos of two different Patriots visits to the White House to embarrass Donald Trump. Just after the Patriots visited President Trump, CNN tweeted out two photos, one showing the team’s photo from 2015 and the other showing this year’s photo. Indeed, a superficial look at the images does make it seem as if the team had far fewer visitors this year than in 2015 when Obama was president. (Interestingly, one person missing in both photos is quarterback Tom Brady.)
— CNN (@CNN) April 20, 2017
But, as the Boston Globe reported, the photos are misleading because in 2015 the whole Patriots retinue were standing on the stairs for the photo — players and team staffers included — while in this year’s photo many of the team’s staffers were sitting in the seats on the lawn facing the podium.
The Patriots also pointed out CNN’s fake news with a tweet of its own.
These photos lack context. Facts: In 2015, over 40 football staff were on the stairs. In 2017, they were seated on the South Lawn. https://t.co/iIYtV0hR6Y
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) April 20, 2017
So, perhaps Strauss was right after all. The Patriots are going to be tarred with politics no matter what they do. But, it must be noted that it isn’t really the team itself doing all this, but instead biased actors like Richard Spencer who uses the team to push his alt-right ideology, Ben Strauss who uses the Patriots to bolster his liberal racial politics, and left-wing sports reporters who use the team to promulgate their left-wing ideals.
The New England Patriots don’t act like racebaiters or infuse politics into football, whether left or right, it is these outsiders who have an agenda that are doing it. In the end, the Patriots are “political” because these agenda-pushing actors say they are, not because the team really is.
The whole situation certainly provokes the rising voices that say in ever louder tones that we need dump the politics, to stick to sports, and just play ball.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.