President Trump welcomed the New England Patriots to the South Lawn of the White House Wednesday to congratulate them on their fifth Super Bowl championship.
Trump has been a supporter of the New England team for years and has a very close relationship with both Kraft and Belichick, which was evident in each of their remarks as they addressed the audience gathered on the lawn.
A notable absence was quarterback Tom Brady, who made a morning announcement citing "family matters to attend to". He posted a wedding photo of his parents on Instagram and wished them a happy anniversary. The projected range of attendees was thought to be somewhere between 27 (the number of players that showed up for the Patriots visit to the White House in 2005) and 36 (the number that showed up to the White House visit in 2004).
Several players this year alluded to U.S. politics as motivation for not attending: "I just don't feel welcome in that house", running back LeGarrette Blount reportedly told the Rich Eisen radio show.
The team's visit also comes on the same day that former Patriot, Aaron Hernandez reportedly hanged himself in a MA correctional facility. He was serving a life-sentence for first-degree murder.
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A team spokesman said the Patriots were aware of the reports of Hernandez's death but the club wasn't expected to comment. Tight end Rob Gronkowski stuck his head in the door of the briefing room as Press Secretary Sean Spicer was holding a televised press briefing.
Gronk just strolled in, asked if they needed help, laughed, and then left. "Bob I want to commend you for building such an extraordinary organization".
The president has a close friendship both team owner Robert Kraft and Belichick, referencing a letter of encouragement the coach wrote him before a crucial primary contest past year. However, many members of the team, including quarterback Tom Brady, were noticeably absent.
Kraft, who has been incredibly outspoken about his friendship with Trump, took the overcoming odds narrative to the extreme. Kraft called the president "a very good friend of mine for over 25 years", and "as mentally tough and hard-working as anybody I know".
President Trump was a few minutes away from beginning his story about Bill Belichick's letter of encouragement - "This handsome letter", Trump would say - when he began listing a few of his favorite memories from Super Bowl LI.
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Kraft's company donated $1 million to Trump's presidential inaugural committee, according to filings released Tuesday. Others include the owners of the Houston Texans, the Washington Redskins, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the LA Rams.
The New York Times compared Wednesday's attendance with the turnout in 2015, and even though the Trump administration isn't the best with crowd estimates, the difference is stark.
Blount-who is now an unsigned free agent-and McCourty both previously said in interviews they wouldn't take part in the festivities because they didn't feel welcome at the White House. "I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won't". That includes Brady in 2015.
"Brady did visit the White House with the Michigan Wolverines after their 1997 national championship win, as well as the Patriots' first three Super Bowl victories".
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