10 times sports figures challenged President Donald Trump in the last four years
2nd November 2020

President Donald Trump has engaged in a war of words with some of the biggest athletes, coaches and teams in the country – more so than any other president in U.S. history. 

On the other side, Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre are among former athletes who have expressed their support for Trump in recent days. An analysis by USA TODAY Sports found that sports team owners have directed more than $3.7 million to political action committees directly aligned with Trump. In contrast, owners have given a combined $1.35 million to Democratic candidates and causes during this election cycle.

Ahead of Election Day, here's a look at 10 times when sports figures challenged Trump over the last four years – a collection of the most notable spars during his presidency. 

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LeBron James, others blast Trump for his Charlottesville response (Aug. 15, 2017). In his public comments about protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump placed blame on "both sides." James and other key athletes took direct aim at Trump on Twitter for his response that neglected the violence initiated by white supremacists. James went on to take a stance by refusing to stay at the Trump SoHo during a road trip to New York. In an August 2018 tweet by Trump he took aim at James' intelligence. 

Hate has always existed in America. Yes we know that but Donald Trump just made it fashionable again! Statues has nothing to do with us now!

Stephen Curry elicits an un-invitation to the White House (Sept. 23, 2017). While many championship teams visited Trump's White House during his presidency, more than half did not. Business Insider tallied every championship team to snub a White House visit. The trend took off following the Golden State Warriors 2016-17 NBA title in which Stephen Curry made it clear he wouldn't be visiting the White House – an invitation that has been granted to title teams in pro and college sports  for several decades. Trump then withdrew Curry's invite. LeBron James, Curry's rival in the Finals, was quick to clarify the narrative. He tweeted the same day as Trump's retort: "U bum (Curry) already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!"

Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!

Hundreds of NFL players follow Colin Kaepernick, kneel in response to Trump's rhetoric (Sept. 24, 2017). While Kaepernick's kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 started before Trump was elected, the president has condemned NFL players for kneeling throughout his presidency. At a Sept. 22 speech in Alabama, Trump said: "Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'get that son of a (expletive) off the field right now. Out. He’s fired!’"

In response to Trump's comments, 204 players elected to either kneel or sit during the anthem, according to an Associated Press estimate. 

“I watched Colin Kaepernick and I thought it was terrible," Trump said on Fox News in '17. "And then it got bigger and bigger and started mushrooming. And frankly the NFL should have suspended him for one game and he would have never done it again."

Gregg Popovich calls Trump a 'soulless coward' (Oct. 17, 2017). Popovich, the five-time NBA champion coach of the Spurs, went on a rant about Trump after the president criticized former president Barack Obama. Popovich told reporters that Trump was a "soulless coward" and that the president is “a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it."

Marshawn Lynch's 'Trump vs. Everybody' stance (Nov. 20, 2017). Lynch, playing for the Oakland Raiders, stood during the Mexican national anthem but knelt during the American anthem when his team played the Patriots in Mexico City. That drew a ticked-off tweet from Trump, who wrote: “Marshawn Lynch of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders stands for the Mexican Anthem and sits down to boos for our National Anthem. Great disrespect! Next time NFL should suspend him for remainder of season. Attendance and ratings way down.”

Lynch then was seen in an NFL game sporting a shirt that read, "Everybody vs. Trump." 

The wife of then-Raiders coach Jack Del Rio responded to Trump's tweets, writing: “President Trump I voted for you, which I now regret."

Philadelphia Eagles elicit another White House invitation withdrawal (June 4, 2018). Trump abruptly called off the Super Bowl champion Eagles' White House visit after it became apparent that a large majority of the team wouldn't attend. Most – if not all – of the Black players on the roster said they wouldn't be attending before Trump issued a statement calling off the visit.  

The Philadelphia Eagles Football Team was invited to the White House. Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event. Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!

Sports world defends LeBron after Trump's critique (Aug. 4, 2018). Trump took aim at James' intelligence with a tweet following an interview James had with CNN host Don Lemon for the opening of his "I Promise You" School. Fellow athletes – current and retired – from all sports came to James' defense, blasting Trump for his rhetoric. 

LeBron James is helping young people get an education. You are an old delusional racist who puts our country at risk.

It should be beneath the dignity of a sitting POTUS to take racist shots at D. Lemon and Lebron James. While only uttering kind words for ruthless dictators, Putin, Kim and Duterte. President Trump, we cape up for ours , “BELIEVE THAT” #KinOrSkinWeRide

Megan Rapinoe finishes the job (June 26, 2019). Rapinoe drew the ire of Trump from comments she made in an interview leading into the World Cup in which she said – with a curse word – that she would not visit the White House if the U.S women's national team won the World Cup. Trump fired off a series of tweets and said Rapinoe should "WIN first before she TALKS!" The U.S. went on to win, with Rapinoe earning the golden boot. Rapinoe, an LGBTQ advocate who also knelt during the anthem to support Kaepernick, called herself "a walking protest when it comes to the Trump administration" because of everything she stands for. 

NBA players kneel to support Black Lives Matter movement (July 30, 2020). All but two NBA players knelt during the national anthem at the league's restart. The league said it would not enforce a longstanding rule prohibiting anthem protests to adjust to the political climate following the death of George Floyd. While the protest was against racial injustice and police brutality, Trump was quick to denounce the league's kneeling, labeling it "disgraceful" and calling players "very nasty." 

James, in response to Trump saying he wouldn't watch the NBA as a result, told reporters: "I really don't think the basketball community (is) sad about losing (Trump's) viewership."

Steve Kerr and Doc Rivers endorse Biden, denounce Trump (Oct. 27, 2020). Both NBA champion coaches urged Americans to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden over Trump in the election, appearing in a new advertisement for "The Lincoln Project." In the video clip, they say: "A vote for Donald Trump is a vote against the very ideals upon which our country was founded. Our democracy itself is at stake. So be a man. Take a good look in the mirror and decide, 'Is she worth defending?'"

Follow reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson. 

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