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Abstract

In the United States, a championship-winning sports team’s ceremonial visit to the White House has become a familiar tradition. Beginning nearly a century ago when Calvin Coolidge invited the Washington Senators to celebrate their second American League Pennant in 1924, the White House visit has evolved into such a common occurrence that we tend to take it for granted as a public relations ploy for the political elites and sports darlings of the moment, ultimately bearing little consequence for either. Yet the rhetorical strategies involved in these events reveal shifting understandings of sports’ role in American culture along with interrelated anxieties about what defines the United States as a nation. Especially in the context of a turbulent and divisive social climate under President Trump, the ceremonial White House visit has become an unlikely stage for displaying overarching ideological tensions. The controversies surrounding Trump’s invitations and disinvitations, as well as players’ acceptances and rejections, illuminate the inherently political dimensions of sport as athletes conform to, negotiate, or in many cases subvert societal expectations. Mounting disruptions of an enduring White House ritual have initiated a dialogue about leadership, honor, and freedom, foundational tenets of the US and the office that represents it.

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