Donald Trump was the subject of startlingly strong abuse from major sports stars on Saturday, after he criticised NFL players protesting racial against injustice and appeared to withdraw an invitation for the Golden State Warriors to visit the White House, breaking a tradition dating back to the Reagan years.
On Friday, point guard Steph Curry, the NBA champions’ star player, told reporters he planned to vote no when the players came together to decide whether to visit Trump in Washington. The Warriors could “inspire some change” and “send a statement” by snubbing the president, Curry said.
On Saturday morning, Trump tweeted: “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team, Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”
That prompted spiralling criticism of the president, who at a rally in Alabama the night before had abused NFL players who have chosen to kneel during the national anthem. The Cleveland Cavaliers star forward LeBron James called the president a “bum” while the Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy went further, calling Trump an “asshole”.
Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was critical, saying in a statement: “Divisive comments like [Trump’s] demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL.”
In June, a day after the Warriors defeated the Cavaliers to win a second NBA title in three seasons, an unconfirmed CNBC report suggested the Warriors might skip the White House visit. Reached by the Guardian then, the team did not deny the report.
“Today is all about celebrating our championship,” the Warriors said in a statement. “We have not received an invitation to the White House, but will make those decisions when and if necessary.”
It was unclear if the team had received a formal invitation between then and Saturday morning. On Friday, general manager Bob Myers said discussions with the White House had been held and said owner Joe Lacob would be involved in the final decision.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Myers added.
On Saturday, a message to the Warriors requesting clarification was not immediately returned. There was no immediate White House comment.
Trump’s announcement from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey was his second criticism of political dissent in professional sports in less than 24 hours. In a fiery speech in Huntsville, Alabama on Friday he unleashed a sensational broadside against NFL players who have kneeled in protest during the national anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” the president said.
He tweeted on the subject on Saturday afternoon, writing: “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”