Red Sox deny 'racial divide' as many snub Trump's White House invite
Boston's manager cites Trump's handling of Puerto Rico as reason for skipping event
U.S. President Donald Trump honoured the World Series champion Boston Red Sox — well, some of them — at the White House on Thursday, but made no mention of the controversy that shadowed the visit.
The team's manager, Alex Cora, did not attend the ceremony after citing his frustration with the administration's efforts to help his native Puerto Rico recover from a devastating hurricane.
And nearly a dozen members of the team, all players of colour, skipped the opportunity to shake Trump's hand. Meanwhile, every white player on the team — as well as outfielder J.D. Martinez, who is of Cuban descent — attended.
The Red Sox repeatedly denied that there was any sort of racial divide caused by the White House visit, which has been transformed from moment of celebratory ritual to hyper-politicized event under Trump. And there was no sign of discord during the rained-upon ceremony on the White House South Lawn.
The U.S. Marine Corps band played versions of Dirty Water and Sweet Caroline, two unofficial Red Sox anthems. A derogatory shout about the Red Sox rival, the New York Yankees, was heard. Trump was presented with a Red Sox jersey with No. 18 on the back.
And while the White House incorrectly labelled the team as the "Red Socks" on its website earlier in the day, Trump himself stuck to the correct script, honouring the team's dominant run to the title.
"Frankly, they were unstoppable. I watched," said Trump, who noted that the squad had now won more World Series titles than any other franchise this century. He laughed when Martinez teased him for being a Yankees fan.
The president was accompanied by two of the team's stars, Martinez and pitcher Chris Sale, from the Oval Office and joined the rest of the team assembled under the South Portico. The team's third base coach, Carlos Febles, who is from the Dominican Republic, stood two rows behind the president. And dozens of administration officials and members of government, many of whom hail from the six New England states, stood on the lawn to cheer.
Team denies 'racial divide'
Tom Werner, the team's chairman, downplayed the no-shows, saying that it was each player's personal decision whether to attend.
"We don't see it as a racial divide," he said after the team received a post-ceremony tour of the Lincoln Bedroom. "I think, to the extent that we can, baseball is apolitical."
A championship team's coach rarely, if ever, misses the White House visit, a tradition that began in earnest in 1924 when then-president Calvin Coolidge invited the Washington Senators. Cora had considered attending Thursday's White House event to call attention to the plight of those in Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria is estimated to have caused nearly 3,000 deaths. But in the end, he opted not to go.
"Unfortunately, we are still struggling, still fighting," Cora said in a statement. "Some people still lack basic necessities, others remain without electricity and many homes and schools are in pretty bad shape almost a year and a half after Hurricane Maria struck. I've used my voice on many occasions so that Puerto Ricans are not forgotten, and my absence is no different. As such, at this moment, I don't feel comfortable celebrating in the White House."
Before the visit, Trump defended his stance on Puerto Rico, falsely asserting once again that the territory received $91 billion US in hurricane relief money, which he claimed was "the largest amount of money ever given to any state."In fact, Congress has allocated Puerto Rico just a fraction of that figure.
The White House has said Trump's $91 billion estimate includes about $50 billion in speculated future disaster disbursements that could span decades, along with $41 billion already approved. Actual aid to Puerto Rico has flowed more slowly from federal coffers, with about $11 billion given so far. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 cost the U.S government more than $120 billion — the bulk of it going to Louisiana.