Goalie Braden Holtby became the most high-profile member of the Washington Capitals to pull out of Monday’s scheduled visit to the White House in celebration of their 2018 Stanley Cup championship.
“It’s one of those things you have to think about, but for me, I have to stay true to my values. I’m going to respectfully decline the offer,” Holtby said Friday after Capitals practice in Arlington, Virginia.
“It’s a tough situation for everyone, to be forced into making a decision. You’re a team. You want to stick together, no matter what. I hope everyone kind of blows it away — that you don’t worry about who goes and who doesn’t. For me, it’s just a personal thing. I believe in what I believe in. In order to stick to those values, I have to do what I think is right, but that doesn’t make a difference in anyone else’s decision. We stick by every teammate and their decision.”
Holtby was the goalie for all 16 wins in the Capitals’ playoff run, leading the NHL postseason with a 2.16 goals-against average. He said other championship teams having chosen not to attend ceremonies at the White House, or not being invited, has created a climate where athletes have to make these decisions.
“Once the first team doesn’t go, it puts the onus on every other team in professional sports to make a decision, if you’re political or not. Our team is trying to take the most professional way we can. Give every player the right to choose, and stand by each one of us, regardless of what you decide,” he said.
The Capitals announced this week that while they will be at the White House on Monday, it will be a decidedly more low-key affair than previous Stanley Cup champion visits. There will be no public ceremony nor media availability, only a private meeting and tour with President Donald Trump. As Holtby said, players were given the team’s blessing to make their own calls on attending.
“I understand our players and their decisions and I respect it. They’re allowed to make their own decisions. It’s important that we support them in whatever decision that they make,” said Capitals coach Todd Reirden, who called the White House celebration “an amazing opportunity” for him and his players.
Forward Brett Connolly was another Capitals player who publicly declined the invitation, saying it was out of respect for teammate Devante Smith-Pelly, currently playing for the team’s American Hockey League affiliate. Smith-Pelly, one of two black players on last year’s Capitals, said he wouldn’t visit the White House after they won the Cup because he believed “the things that [the president] spews are straight-up racist and sexist.”
Both Holtby and Connolly are Canadian-born. John Carlson and T.J. Oshie, the two most prominent American players on the Capitals, have both said they’ll attend, as will Russian-born captain Alex Ovechkin.
For Holtby, the decision was based on personal beliefs for himself and his family. He has been one of the NHL’s most prominent supporters of the LGBTQ community, including appearances at local pride parades.
“It’s one of the factors. But my family, myself, we believe in a world where humans are treated with respect, regardless of your stature or what you’re born into. That’s just where it’s at with this decision. You’re asked to choose what side you’re on, and it’s pretty clear what side I’m on. I believe this is the right decision for myself and my family,” he said.
Holtby said it wasn’t a hard decision to decline the White House invitation.
“In the end, I never came up with a situation where I felt comfortable going. The toughest part is that I’ve always tried to live my life as ‘the team sticks together,’ so that was probably the toughest part. But that’s just how the world is sometimes. You’re forced into sticking by what you believe. In the future, I want to stick by what I believe in and push towards a world where people are treated equal,” he said.
The goalie said there’s no friction inside the dressing room about decisions to attend or decline. “There’s more to it than politics for some guys. There’s history and pride in the nation. It’s one of those pretty cool things that’s been a thing for a long time. That’s why we respect [the decision] either way,” Holtby said.
This isn’t the first time the Stanley Cup champions’ visit to the White House collided with politics. The Pittsburgh Penguins were criticized last season for their decision to attend a public ceremony at a time when the administration was feuding with African-American athletes in the NFL and NBA. In 2012, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas created a firestorm by no-showing the team’s White House appearance with President Barack Obama because Thomas said he believed “the federal government has grown out of control.”