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Devin McCourty among Patriots not expected to make White House trip

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots safety and six-time captain Devin McCourty headlines a small group of players who have publicly said that they won’t attend Wednesday’s ceremony at the White House, as part of a political statement against President Donald Trump.

McCourty explained his decision on Friday at Boston University’s "Play It Forward" summit.

"The different things that come out of the White House or the [administration] just didn’t agree or align with some of my views," McCourty said during a panel discussion, echoing what he told Time Magazine immediately after the team’s Super Bowl LI victory.

McCourty said he wouldn’t "feel accepted in the White House. With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices, I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won’t. ... I don’t believe in excluding other people."

Defensive end Chris Long, tight end Martellus Bennett, running back LeGarrette Blount and defensive tackle Alan Branch are the other players from the 2016 Patriots team who have publicly said they won’t attend.

Long joined McCourty in "StandingPats," an online video recently produced by Green Stripe News, and further detailed his thinking. The video had more than 75,000 views as of Tuesday morning.

"When my son grows up, and I believe the legacy of our president is going to be what it is, I don’t want him to say, 'Dad, why did you go when you knew the right thing was to not go?'" Long said in the video.

As a guest on Barstool Sports' "Pardon My Take" podcast in February, Long said, "I’ve got plenty of serious political reasons that probably don’t belong on this show, but I’m just not doing it. America’s an awesome country, man. Everybody knows that. That’s why I have this choice."

Long has been active on Twitter discussing his decision.

Immediately after Super Bowl LI, Bennett said, "I am not going to go. I can elaborate later on in life. People know how I feel about it, just follow me on Twitter." Instead of joining the Patriots on Wednesday, Bennett plans to be in Los Angeles to spend the day with Netflix talk-show host Chelsea Handler to discuss why it's important for him to make a positive impact. Their conversation is scheduled to stream via Facebook Live on Handler's personal page at 1:30 p.m. ET.

As for Blount, he said on the "Rich Eisen Show" in February, "I don’t feel welcome in that house. I’ll leave it at that."

Meanwhile, Branch told the Boston Globe this week, "I have three daughters. I wouldn’t spend time away from my family to shake the hand of a guy I wouldn’t want to meet with or talk to. I can’t see myself going and then hanging out with my kids and pretending everything was all right."

The Patriots began their voluntary offseason program Monday, with the majority of players on the roster present. Last week, safety Patrick Chung said of the White House ceremony, "Whoever wants to go wants to go. Everybody has their own decision, and it is what it is."

Chung said he was unsure whether he would attend and added that he needed more time to think about it. Running back James White previously said something similar.

On Tuesday, director of player personnel Nick Caserio spoke on behalf of the organization when he said, "We’re honored and humbled to be extended the invitation to the White House. It’s a great opportunity for the team to be recognized for the accomplishments of last season. I think we’re respectful of players and their individual positions. Everybody has their own personal beliefs and feelings on it."

This is the Patriots’ fifth trip to the White House to be honored as Super Bowl champions, and player attendance has seldom, if ever, been a hot-button topic. Photographs from the Patriots' four previous visits, in which the entire traveling party flanked the president, show that there have been as many as about 50 players and as few as about 30, depending on the year.

In 2015, quarterback Tom Brady and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork were among the players who didn’t attend the White House ceremony because of scheduling conflicts.

This is the first time since Trump became president that he is welcoming a professional sports team as part of the traditional ceremony for championship teams at the White House.

Some players, such as linebacker Dont'a Hightower, said they don’t plan to attend Wednesday but stopped short of saying it was for political reasons.

"Been there, done that," he said Feb. 8 during an on-air appearance at ESPN, pointing out that he attended two years ago and with the University of Alabama national championship football team.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is a longtime friend of Trump's. Kraft attended Trump's inauguration ceremony and dined with him and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. In January, Kraft told the New York Daily News that Trump attended the funeral of Kraft’s late wife, Myra, in 2011 and then called him once a week for the rest of the year to check on him during the "most depressing year of my life."

Trump also has a friendship with coach Bill Belichick and Brady that goes back many years. In November, Trump read a letter Belichick had written him to an audience in New Hampshire.

At a football news conference, Belichick explained the letter, saying in part, "To me, friendship and loyalty is just about that. It’s not about political or religious views. I write hundreds of letters and notes every month. It doesn’t mean that I agree with every single thing that every person thinks about politics, religion or other subjects. But I have multiple friendships that are important to me, and that’s what [the letter] was about."

On sports radio WEEI in January, Brady acknowledged that he has spoken with Trump from time to time.

"That’s been someone I’ve known. I always try to keep it in context because for 16 years, you know someone before maybe he was in the position that he was in," Brady said. "He’s been very supportive of me for a long time. It’s just a friendship. I have a lot of friends. I call a lot of people."