Twice in recent days, high-profile athletes with public beefs against the Trump administration have turned down opportunities to meet with the president and vice president.
After Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon slammed Vice President Pence in an interview last month, Pence reportedly sought to set up a private conversation with him. According to USA Today, Rippon declined the invitation. When asked on Twitter why he planned to skip his team's post-Super Bowl visit to the White House, a trip that could present his only opportunity to confront President Trump, Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long engaged in a back-and-forth with former Trump advisor Boris Epshteyn, concluding any potential conversation would be of little value.
"Who were the fine people on the side of the Nazis and KKK that gathered in my hometown the day a terrorist put 20 ppl in the hospital? Why reference the hatred and bigotry on 'many sides' that day? Why didn’t you immediately denounce them?" Long, who also skipped last year's visit, tweeted. "I already know the answer. None of that is political. I’m not interested in a dialogue with someone who I have to ask those questions of."
He later added, "The lack of condemnation of said groups is either a calculated omission to pander to an ugly corner of our country OR he agrees with those folks. Either way, no convo needed." Read the full thread here.
“Who were the fine people on the side of the Nazis and KKK that gathered in my hometown the day a terrorist put 20 ppl in the hospital? Why reference the hatred and bigotry on “many sides” that day? Why didn’t you immediately denounce them?”— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) February 6, 2018
Long's explanation is fair enough, but still predicated on what amounts to an assumption about Trump's reasoning. And even if it weren't, why resist an opportunity to express that perspective in person? Not being "interested in a dialogue with someone" of whom you have to ask tough questions, even if you feel you already know the answers, is a disappointing attitude for a person with a large platform who engages in public discussions about politics. (Though to Long's credit, he at least engaged with Epshteyn.)
For better or worse, athletes are role models (and Long in particular seems to be an excellent one), admired and emulated by young people around the country and around the world. At a time when the ascendant impulse to disengage and silence opposing viewpoints is wreaking so much havoc — whether on campuses, in personal relationships, or in the media — Rippon and Long are setting a dubious example for their young fans, a generation in desperate need of encouragement to engage with people who spread bad ideas, not more reasons to tune them out.