Press secretary says Patriots to be honored at White House in April

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The New England Patriots will be honored as Super Bowl LI champions at the White House on Wednesday, April 19, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday.

The Patriots will be the first professional sports team welcomed by President Donald Trump, who has a close friendship with owner Robert Kraft.

The team's anticipated visit has already generated headlines, with safety and team captain Devin McCourty previously telling TIME that he wouldn't attend.

McCourty shared his thoughts immediately after Super Bowl LI, telling TIME, "Basic reason for me is I don'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."

Tight end Martellus Bennett, who signed with the Green Bay Packers as a free agent in the offseason, also said in the aftermath of the Super Bowl that he didn't plan to attend due to political reasons.

Defensive end Chris Long, who is currently an unrestricted free agent, has echoed Bennett's remarks.

Others, such as defensive tackle Alan Branch and linebacker Dont'a Hightower, have already said they don't plan to attend but that it isn't necessarily for political reasons.

Kraft has spent time with Trump since the team's Super Bowl victory, including a dinner with Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

In a February appearance on the "Today" show, Kraft addressed reports of players saying they wouldn't be attending the White House.

"I'm happy to say this is our fifth Super Bowl in the last 16 years ... and every time we've had the privilege of going to the White House, a dozen of our players don't go. This is the first time it's gotten any media attention," Kraft said on the program. "Some of the players have the privilege of going in college because they're on national championship teams, others have family commitments. But this is America. We're all free to do whatever's best for us. We're just privileged to be in a position to be going."