President Donald Trump welcomed the New England Patriots to the White House on Wednesday to celebrate their victory in this year's Super Bowl, but several players skipped the ceremony for political reasons.
Also absent was quarterback Tom Brady, an old friend of Trump's, who announced Wednesday morning that he would not be attending the event due to "personal family matters."
"In light of some recent developments, I am unable to attend today's ceremony, as I am attending to some personal family matters," Brady said in a statement to ESPN.
The player previously cited a "family commitment" when he skipped the team's White House visit under President Obama following their Super Bowl victory in 2015.
Two hours after Brady's announcement, his wife Gisele Bündchen tweeted a link to an anti-Trump protest.
Brady said Wednesday he was "so happy and excited" that the Patriots were being honored at the White House — an event typically held for the winning Super Bowl team.
"Thank you to the president for hosting this honorary celebration and for supporting our team as long as I can remember," Brady said.
The quarterback said he hoped the team could win another championship and visit the White House again soon, and wished his teammates well.
However, six of his teammates publicly vowed to boycott the event because of their opposition to Trump: tight end Martellus Bennett, safety Devin McCourty, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive tackle Alan Branch, and defensive end Chris Long.
"I don’t feel accepted in the White House," McCourty said of his reason for boycotting the event. "With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices, I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t."
In February, BuzzFeed News reached out to 25 Patriots players whose contact information was accessible to ask whether they would attend the traditional celebration. Of that group, 21 did not respond to the inquiry; two players’ representatives and one player avoided a definitive answer about attending; and only long snapper Joe Cardona said he would go.
But dozens of players ultimately turned up for the event, standing behind the president as he was gifted with a special jersey and helmet of his own.
"The Patriots are an incredible organization and this Super Bowl victory was a complete team effort," Trump said.
The president also made a sly reference to his election victory during the event, blasting pundits who predicted he and the Patriots would be defeated in their contests.
"With their backs against the all and the pundits — good old pundits, boy, they're wrong a lot, aren't they? — saying you couldn't do it, the game was over, you pulled off one of the greatest Super Bowl comebacks of all time," the president said of the team's 34–28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Trump watched the Feb. 5 game at his Florida golf club, but left the party early when the Patriots were trailing and it seemed his favored team would lose.