Baseball legend and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron says that if he were on a championship roster today, he would not visit the Trump White House.
Speaking at the “Hank Aaron Champion for Justice Awards” in Atlanta, “Hammerin’ Hank” voiced support for athletes who protest and speak out on social issues.
“There’s nobody there I want to see,” Aaron said as he explained how he would handle a White House visit.
“I can understand where the players are coming from. I really do. I understand they have their own issues and things they feel conviction about. They have a right to that, and I probably would be the same way, there’s no question about it.”
Championship pro and college sports teams began the tradition of visiting the White House to celebrate their success during the Reagan Administration. However, the practice became politically tinged, when athletes such as Golden State’s Steph Curry began saying they would refuse an invite from President Trump if invited.
Such public rebukes from politically outspoken athletes, led President Trump to begin rescinding the invites. Most notably, earlier this month, when Trump canceled a visit by the Philadelphia Eagles after it turns out the team was planning to send less than five players to attend the event.
Aaron expressed regret that he was not more politically active during his playing days.
“To be honest, I feel somewhat guilty that I didn’t do possibly as much as I could have done,” Aaron told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
“We didn’t get to where we are today because we kept our mouth closed or scratched our head and sat and didn’t do anything.”
Perhaps Aaron is only referring to baseball players here, but this statement seems odd when considering the time period in which Aaron played.
During Aaron’s career, Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, and, at the time, the most politically outspoken athlete in American sports. Also during this time, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in protest during the 1968 Olympics.
Again, maybe Aaron is only referring to baseball players, but the idea that athletes of his day merely, “scratched our head and didn’t do anything,” can be easily disproved.
There’s also the consideration of Aaron’s legacy. Hank Aaron is most famous for breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record. A record set by a white man, and arguably the most famous athlete in the history of American sports. In an interview I conducted with the late Milo Hamilton — who had the call for Aaron’s record-breaking homer —Atlanta was the scene of tremendous racial angst leading up to Aaron’s historic moment.
Had Henry Aaron been a politically outspoken athlete in the mold of a Colin Kaepernick, or Muhammad Ali, might those tensions have boiled over? Would Aaron have the same exalted place in baseball lore, if he had cloaked himself in the social justice activism of the day?
Moreover, is there any kind of protest that Aaron could have performed, which would have had more of an impact than a likable, non-political, and easy-to-root-for black man breaking the greatest record of all time?
It’s hard to imagine he could have.
Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter @themightygwinn