Penguins’ planned White House visit draws fire on social media

Updated 31 minutes ago

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ announcement Sunday that they have accepted an invitation to the White House to celebrate the team’s 2017 Stanley Cup championship has drawn rebukes on social media from a number of sports outlets.

Comments on the Penguins’ website over the team’s decision to visit the White House were mixed.

The Penguins’ statement seemingly intended to divorce the act of visiting the White House from any political endorsement of President Donald Trump, Trib writer Jonathan Bombulie reported.

“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.

The team’s statement was followed by sharp criticism on social media from several major hockey writers.

Several Penguins players told The Associated Press that they back the decision to accept Trump’s invitation.

“I support it,” center Sidney Crosby said after the Penguins’ 4-1 loss against the St. Louis Blues during the annual Hockeyville USA exhibition game Sunday night at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry. “It’s a great honor for us to be invited there.”

Forward Bryan Rust agreed.

“I think we all really enjoyed it last year, being able to see something that not everyone gets to see, and to be able to experience the White House,” Rust said. “I think for us, as an organization, we relish the opportunity, and it’s something we get to do because we are champions, and we’re going to make the most of it.”

The Penguins’ decision came on a day that President Trump’s criticisms of players who kneel during the national anthem sparked a mass increase in such protests around the National Football League.

The Steelers held a team meeting Saturday night and decided that whatever they did in protest, they would do together so no players would be singled out before their 23-17 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday, Trib columnist Kevin Gorman reported.

Despite the meeting, there were some awkward moments before the game. While the team remained out of view, head coach Mike Tomlin and assistant coaches Todd Haley, Mike Munchak and James Saxon stood on the Steelers sideline for the anthem.

But a camera caught Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, standing at the end of the tunnel with his hand over his heart.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368 or tlarussa@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.

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