Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto to 'take a knee' on Penguins' White House visit
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he declined an invitation to join the Penguins again this year during a White House visit to celebrate the team's second consecutive Stanley Cup victory.
Peduto said the Penguins invited him on the trip scheduled for next month but he declined mainly because of President Trump's critical tweeting about NFL players refusing to stand for the National Anthem.
“Let's just say if all of the attention was not focused on sports in the way that it has over the past week with the tweets that have been going out from the White House, I would have thought about it,” the mayor said Tuesday. “It would just bring attention to the city in a way that could be negative. I'll take a knee on this one and stay home.”
Trump triggered a maelstrom on social media after tweeting that NFL owners should fire players who refuse to stand for the anthem. NFL players on Sunday staged a mass demonstration in protest of Trump's comments.
Players for the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and Steelers, with the exception of Alejandro Villanueva, chose to remain off field during the anthem.
Peduto, a Democrat, has been critical of the Republican president since early this year when he aired a re-election campaign ad bashing Trump for his stances on health care and education. The mayor also took exception to Trump's reference to Pittsburgh while pulling out of the Paris climate agreement.
Peduto said Trump should find ways of uniting the country through sports.
“There is no doubt that the tweets are divisive,” he said. “The role of any executive, whether it's a president, a governor or a mayor, is never to divide the people you represent. It is to find a way through these difficult issues to bring people together.”
Peduto last year joined the Penguins along with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, U.S. Senator Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and other dignitaries during a White House visit with President Obama following their 2016 Stanley Cup win. Fitzgerald and Casey also opted out this year. Fitzgerald was invited. Casey said he had not been as of Monday.
Fitzgerald said the visit would conflict with his 2018 budget presentation to County Council. Casey's Office said the senator also has a conflicting event.
“Hopefully we can use sports as a unifying factor, and that's what the Penguins have been,” Fitzgerald said.
Peduto said the Steelers were faced with a no-win situation and did the right thing. He said athletes and others have a constitutional right to protest against social injustice, noting that black athletes and celebrities have used their positions for years to prompt positive change in America.
“I realize that this entire country's history has been based upon people taking social action, going back to the Boston Tea Party in the very beginning,” he said. “The very thing that we represent when we put our hand on our heart when we sing the National Anthem is that right of freedom of expression in order to make great things happen.”
Peduto only wishes it wouldn't happen on the playing field.
“What I would like to see happen is all the middlemen not to be involved,” he said. “Get that Gold Star mom in a room with a young mom who lost their child on the streets of America. Get them together and you're going to find out they have a lot more in common than they have differences, and they could probably come up with a much better solution than what we're seeing in Washington.”