Superstar quarterback Tom Brady was among several New England Patriots players who decided not to attend Wednesday's ceremony at the White House honoring the team's Super Bowl LI win -- but unlike some of his compatriots, Brady claimed his decision not to go has nothing to do with President Trump.
Brady only announced Wednesday morning that he would not be attending.
“Thank you to the president for hosting this honorary celebration and for supporting our team for as long as I can remember,” he said in a statement. “In light of some recent development, I am unable to attend today’s ceremony, as I am attending to some personal family matters.”
The White House told Fox News it was aware ahead of time that Brady wouldn't be at the ceremony.
While Brady didn't specifically say what the family issue was, it's known that his mom has cancer.
Brady has had a somewhat uncomfortable connection to Trump in recent years. After a reporter spotted a "Make America Great Again" hat in Brady's locker in September 2015, Brady said Trump sent him the hat and said "I hope so, it would be great" when asked if he wanted Trump to win the presidency.
But by December 2015, Brady, who had called Trump "a friend," was asking to stay out of the political debate.
On the campaign trail, however, Trump touted the supposed endorsement of Brady and his coach, Bill Belichick.
Still, before winning the Super Bowl in January 2017, Brady seemed done discussing Trump. "I have a lot of friends. I call a lot of people," he told reporters.
Brady's wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, is also known not to be a fan of Trump's. On Instagram a fan asked her in November if she and Brady would be voting for Trump. She replied: "NO!" Brady, however, has been coy about who he voted for or if he even voted in the presidential election.
Brady previously missed a Patriots trip to the White House when former President Barack Obama was the resident, too, citing a scheduling issue.
While the matter of athletes skipping a White House invite for political reasons is certainly nothing new, at least six other players on the Patriots' championship squad skipped the trip to D.C. Wednesday, and some have specifically said their absence was in protest of Trump:
- Martellus Bennett – The tight end – who’s now a member of the Green Bay Packers – said before the Super Bowl was even played that he’d probably opt out. “Most likely not, because I don’t support the person in it,” Bennett told The Detroit Free Press. Bennett, who had five catches for 62 yards in the Super Bowl, has also been an enthusiastic supporter of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
- Devin McCourty – In a recent Green Stripe News video, McCourty, a defensive back, said he decided he wasn’t going “before we even won the game.” In February, he told Time it was a personal choice. “Basic reason for me is I don’t feel accepted in the White House,” said McCourty, who had four tackles in Super Bowl LI. “With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t.”
- Chris Long – Long, a defensive end who’s now with the Philadelphia Eagles, also decided not to attend. “[When] my son grows up – and I believe the legacy of our president is going to be what it is – I don’t want him to say, ‘Hey dad, why’d you go when you knew the right thing was to not go?’” Long said in the Green Stripe News video. Long is the son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long.
- LaGarrette Blount – The running back, who had 11 carries for 31 yards in Super Bowl LI, said in a February radio interview that “I just don’t feel welcome into that house. I’m just gonna leave it at that.”
- Don’t’a Hightower – A linebacker with two tackles in Super Bowl LI, Hightower said he was skipping the visit with Trump because he’s “been there, done that,” ESPN reported. Hightower had previously been to the White House with his Alabama college squad and also didn’t go to D.C. in 2014 after the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX – when Obama was in office.
- Alan Branch – A defensive tackle who recorded half a sack in the Super Bowl, Branch said his absence was a result of the October release of a hot mic video showing Trump making lewd comments. “I have three daughters,” Branch told The Boston Globe. “I wouldn’t spend time away from my family to shake the hand of a guy I wouldn’t want to meet with or talk to.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft – who supported Trump – said of the players who weren’t planning to go: “This is America. We’re all free to do whatever’s best for us.” He also said players skipping the ceremony was not an unusual occurrence.
“Well, you know what’s interesting, this is our, I’m happy to say, fifth Super Bowl in the last 16 years,” Kraft told the Today Show. “And every time we’ve had the privilege of going to the White House, a dozen of our players don’t go. This is the first time it’s gotten any media attention.”