President Donald Trump welcomed members of the New England Patriots to the White House on Wednesday, noting that it was a distinct honor to celebrate the team’s Super Bowl victory “with a very good friend.”
Trump, who is on favorable terms with coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft, was unable to see another one of his friends on Wednesday. Quarterback Tom Brady did not attend the ceremony, releasing a statement earlier on Wednesday citing “recent developments” and “personal family matters” for the reason for his absence.
“I am so happy and excited that our team is being honored at the White House today,” Brady said in a statement. “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. “
While the day was designed to be festive, the Patriots were left to deal with the news that former tight end Aaron Hernandez hanged himself in a prison cell hours before the White House visit, according to Massachusetts prison officials.
A team spokesman said the Patriots were aware of situation, but neither the team or Trump publicly addressed the news surrounding Hernandez.
Current star tight end Rob Gronkowski elected to have some fun during his time in Washington. The affable Gronkowski opened a door behind White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday afternoon.
“Need some help,” Gronkowski asked to a chorus of laughter.
Spicer, who is an avid Patriots fan, took the interruption in stride by saying, “I think I got this, but thank you.”
Gronkowski joined the rest of his teammates on the South Lawn for the ceremony, during which Trump praised individual players such as wide receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman for their contributions during the Super Bowl.
“It was a complete team effort. That’s the beauty of what they do, they win as a team,” said Trump, who equated some similarity to the team’s stirring 25-point comeback against the Atlanta Falcons with his own political victory.
“Pundits, boy, are they wrong a lot, aren’t they?” Trump said.
Trump also received a personalized No. 45 jersey and helmet from Kraft and Belichick, respectively.
“It is a distinct honor for us to celebrate what was unequivocally our sweetest championship with a very good friend and somebody whose mental toughness and strength I greatly admire,” Kraft said.
At least seven players elected against attending the event, citing political and social causes as the reason they did not join teammates in the customary celebration.
Defensive back Devin McCourty said he wouldn’t attend because he doesn’t feel welcome at the White House.