The number of New England Patriots saying they’ll skip the traditional champions’ visit to the White House is now up to six, and may get larger.

Defensive end Chris Long, running back LeGarrette Blount and defensive tackle Alan Branch added their names to the list Thursday, joining tight end Martellus Bennett, defensive back Devin McCourty and linebacker Dont’a Hightower as having publicly stated an intention not to accompany the team on its expected trip to Washington later this year.

Some, but not all, of the six players cited an antipathy to President Trump as their reason.

Long was responding to a column by Chuck Modiano of the New York Daily News, one framed as an open letter that implored him to “stand up” to Trump. “You are one of the only white NFL athletes who publicly seemed to ‘get it’ after Colin Kaepernick took his national anthem stand,” Modiano wrote.

On his Twitter account, Long replied by saying, “Oh Chuck. Planned on skipping, hadn’t been asked. Don’t need an open letter explaining my own words to me. Not *joining* anyone. My call.”

Blount, who led the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns this season, told NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, “I will not be going to the White House. It’s just some of the things that, I just don’t feel welcome in that house, I’m going to just leave it at that.”

Branch, interviewed on Sirius XM radio, offered a different reason for declining the meet-and-greet with the president. “I’m going to hang with family and continue to celebrate until next season starts,” he said.
For Hightower, it was a case of “Been there, done that,” which were his words Wednesday. The linebacker had visited the White House twice as a member of Alabama’s BCS title-winning teams, and he pointed out that he eschewed the trip in 2015 after the Patriots notched a Super Bowl victory over the Seahawks.

Bennett and McCourty made it clear that they did not approve of the White House’s current occupant. Before the Super Bowl was even played, Bennett said he “most likely” would skip the visit, adding, “I don’t support the guy that’s in the house.”

Immediately following New England’s comeback win Sunday over Atlanta, Bennett confirmed he wouldn’t go, noting that he wasn’t concerned about upsetting Patriots owner Robert Kraft. A longtime friend of Trump’s – as is quarterback Tom Brady – Kraft has received words of effusive praise from the president, as have Brady and Coach Bill Belichick.

On Monday, it was McCourty’s turn. “I’m not going to the White House,” he wrote in a text message to 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.”

With about 10 percent of the team already announcing an intention to skip the White House visit, it remains to be seen how much more of the roster will follow suit. Running back James White, who scored three touchdowns in the Super Bowl in what many thought was an MVP-worthy performance, and linebacker Rob Ninkovich have said that they were unsure if they would make the trip.

It is even possible that an invitation won’t be extended at all, despite the ties to Kraft, Brady and Belichick, if enough players stage a boycott and Trump’s own team decides that the optics would be bad for him.

According to ESPN, the tradition of teams visiting the White House dates back to at least 1865, when President Andrew Johnson received a pair of amateur baseball squads. It ramped up under President Ronald Reagan, quickly becoming a rite of championship passage for many college and professional championship teams.

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