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Tom Brady is a surprise no-show as Patriots visit White House

Super Bowl champion quarterback says he will be attending to family matters

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady announced that he is not attending Wednesday’s ceremony honoring the Super Bowl LI champions at the White House.

“I am so happy and excited that our team is being honored at the White House today,” Brady said in a statement released Wednesday morning. “Our team has accomplished something very special that we are all proud of and will be for years to come. Thank you to the president for hosting this honorary celebration and for supporting our team for as long as I can remember. In light of some recent developments, I am unable to attend today’s ceremony, as I am attending to some personal family matters. Hopefully, if we accomplish the goal of winning a championship in the future years, we will back on the South Lawn again soon. Have a great day!”

The party wasn’t even in full swing after the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory in February when some players began announcing they would skip a White House ceremony to honor them — no matter when it was scheduled.

One after another, they said that because of President Donald Trump, you could count them out. Brady, however, was not among them. Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and owner Bob Kraft are reportedly friendly with Trump.

Brady also skipped the Patriots’ White House visit two years ago when Barack Obama was president, citing a prior family commitment.

Brady’s announcement wasn’t the only development on what is typically a strictly ceremonial occasion. The Patriots are visiting the White House on the same day that former tight end Aaron Hernandez was found dead in a Massachusetts prison.

Hernandez, 27, hanged himself in his cell, according to Department of Correction spokesman Christopher Fallon. Hernandez was serving a life sentence at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley for the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd. He was acquitted Friday in the 2012 double murder of two other men.

Hernandez played for the Patriots from 2010-12. Patriots spokesman Stacey James said the team likely would have no comment about Hernandez’s death Wednesday.

The Patriots are the first championship team to attend a ceremony during the Trump administration, and the no-show list includes more than Brady.

Tight end Martellus Bennett, the first to make his feelings known, will spend the day far away from Washington, D.C. Bennett, who signed with the Green Bay Packers this offseason, will be in Los Angeles, rapping with talk show host Chelsea Handler about the importance he places on being a role model. Safety and six-time Patriots captain Devin McCourty and defensive end Chris Long have other plans as well. They explained their position in a video.

Running back LaGarrette Blount, defensive tackle Alan Branch and linebacker Dont’a Hightower also announced that they are skipping the ceremony.

“The different things that come out of the White House or [the administration] just don’t agree or align with some of my views,” McCourty said during a recent panel discussion at Boston University’s “Play It Forward Summit.”

McCourty explained he wouldn’t “feel accepted in the White House. With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices, I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t. … I don’t believe in excluding other people.”

Likewise, Blount said he wouldn’t feel at ease in the current White House. “I don’t feel welcome in that house,” he said on The Rich Eisen Show in February. “I’ll leave it at that.”

In the video with McCourty, Long expressed his desire to do the right thing as a father. “When my son grows up,” he said, “and I believe the legacy of our president is going to be what it is, I don’t want him to say, ‘Dad, why did you go when you knew the right thing was not to go?’ ”

Under NFL collective bargaining rules, players are not required to attend championship ceremonies at the White House. It appears the overwhelming majority of Patriots players will attend.

USC law professor Jody David Armour, who studies the intersections of race and legal decision-making, said the Patriots’ players — and especially black players — who are staying away for political reasons have reason to be leery about associating with Trump.

“For a lot of black players, this president is the political and moral equivalent of someone like [white nationalist] David Duke,” Armour said on the phone. “You could understand why players would not want to be honored in a White House ceremony by David Duke, especially if he ran a divisive campaign that dispensed with the dog whistles and just demonstrated a lot of barefaced racism.

“Not just racism, but also barefaced misogyny. And barefaced xenophobia. For those reasons, you cannot fault the players. And you can understand how the players have such a visceral feeling about this particular politician, this particular president, and not want to be seen as normalizing his administration by going to a ceremony like this. Ask yourself this: Why would they want to want to wrap their arms around this?”

ESPN.com staff writer Mike Reiss and ESPN.com news services contributed to this report.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.