Penguins accept White House invitation
The Penguins announced Sunday morning that they have been invited to the White House to celebrate their 2017 Stanley Cup championship and they will accept the invitation.
The Penguins issued a statement seemingly intended to divorce the act of visiting the White House from any political endorsement of President Donald Trump.
"The Pittsburgh Penguins respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House," the statement said. "We attended White House ceremonies after previous championships – touring the historic building and visiting briefly with Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama – and have accepted an invitation to attend again this year.
"Any agreement or disagreement with a president's politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways. However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit."
A few hours after the Penguins issued the statement, Trump responded via Twitter.
"Please to inform that the Champion Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL will be joining me at the White House for Ceremony," he tweeted. "Great team!"
Please to inform that the Champion Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL will be joining me at the White House for Ceremony. Great team!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
If there's a team in pro sports that could be expected to oppose Trump's policy and agenda, it's the Penguins.
Co-owner Ron Burkle is a renowned Democratic party donor. President and CEO David Morehouse worked in the Clinton administration and for the Al Gore and John Kerry campaigns.
Hockey players are notoriously apolitical. Part of the sport's culture is to publicly value team over self, and a player stepping away from that dynamic to make an individual political statement would be highly unusual.
A brief sampling of American players on the Penguins roster spoke to that point.
"I would say I've never really had to deal with anything like this before," said defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, a San Diego native. "I think it's fair to say we don't generally get involved in the political side of things, but that's the decision we made and we're going to stick to it."
Winger Bryan Rust, a Michigan native, recalled last year's visit to the White House as a memorable moment in his career.
"I think we all really enjoyed it last year, being able to see something that not everyone gets to see and being able to experience the White House," Rust said. "I think for us, and as an organization, we relish this opportunity. It's something we get to do because we are champions. I think it's something we're going to make the most of."
The issue of championship teams visiting the White House entered the national discussion when members of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors expressed criticism of Trump, and the President responded Saturday by rescinding their invitation to a ceremony via a Twitter message.
"Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team," Trump tweeted. "Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!"
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.