WASHINGTON — When Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook tweeted this week that his team would relish a trip to the White House, he was surprised at the negative reactions from others on Twitter.
“I was shocked,” Cook told The World-Herald. “It just shows you where our country’s at. We’re divided now.”
Cook posted comments on Twitter in the wake of President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to cancel a White House visit by the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
“Nebraska would love to go to the White House!” Cook wrote. “Huskers would be honored and proud to visit our leaders in DC and represent Nebraska and the Natty! #gbr”
Trump won Nebraska overwhelmingly in 2016 and many in the state continue to support him, as evidenced by positive responses to the tweet. The tweet was deleted Wednesday afternoon but not before drawing thousands of likes, retweets and general attaboys.
“Amen Coach!!!!” wrote one person. “It’s about respect for the President of the United States…whom ever that may be. GBR”
But it also prompted harsher reactions tied to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. One self-described Husker fan and political liberal wrote:
“You do deserve the honor of being invited to the WH, but this president is dishonorable.”
Cook said he took the tweet down after seeing it was “getting too many fired up.”
A number of commenters raised the question of how the players Cook is responsible for feel about his statement in light of the president’s language about women. They specifically cited Trump’s comments in the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape before he was president.
For his part, Cook said he didn’t view the idea of visiting the White House as controversially as some of NU’s fans expressed on Twitter.
The Huskers have visited Washington, D.C., after winning previous national titles, including after capturing the 2015 championship in Omaha.
With several members of that squad also on the 2017 title team, Cook said the Huskers viewed another visit as an expectation.
“The players have been asking me, ‘Hey, when are we going?’ ” Cook said.
A D.C. trip is about more than just meeting the nation’s chief executive, he said, noting that he also sets up visits to museums, monuments and historical sites.
When the Huskers went to Washington in 2016 after winning the 2015 NCAA title, the team met with members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation and spent several hours at the Supreme Court with Justice Clarence Thomas, a noted Husker fan whose wife is from Omaha.
Cook said Thomas texted him the day after Nebraska beat Florida for its fifth national title in December expressing interest in seeing the Huskers again.
“It’s not just meeting the president,” Cook said. “That’s what people don’t get. It’s a whole cultural and historical experience. It’s not a political statement (on) how we feel about President Trump or not. It’s an honor to go to our nation’s capital when you win a national championship. It’s for the whole nation.”
White House visits from big-time championship sports teams are a long-standing tradition that provides athletes an opportunity to bask in their achievements — and for presidents to take a break from partisan fights and policy disputes with a bit of fun and ribbing about their own team loyalties.
But those events have been more politically fraught under Trump.
In particular, Trump has rhetorically skewered the NFL over its players protesting racial inequality and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.
“The Philadelphia Eagles Football Team was invited to the White House,” Trump tweeted. “Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event. Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!”
Trump’s statement came even though Eagles players were not among those who knelt last season. White House aides subsequently focused on the small number of Eagles players who were going to participate as they have explained the cancellation.
The event that was held was widely described as odd given that it was unusually short and that many of the Eagles “fans” in attendance appeared to be White House staffers hurried out to take part in the show.
The Minnesota Lynx, 2017 WNBA champs, are in Washington this week, but the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that team members are giving away socks and shoes at a local school. The team did not receive a White House invitation this year despite three previous visits. But the newspaper also reported that it’s not clear that the team would have gone if invited given that forward Rebekkah Brunson said after winning the title that she would not accept an invite.
Members of both teams battling it out in the NBA Finals — the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors — have said that regardless of which team wins they don’t expect to be visiting the White House.
Trump noted this week that other championship teams have visited. Those include the Chicago Cubs, who had players at the White House last year celebrating their World Series title.
Also on hand for that were members of the Ricketts family, which owns the team, including Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts and his brother Todd, who took the opportunity to talk some smack about how the Cubs would beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs.