Three players from the 1972 Miami Dolphins turned down President Obama’s recent invitation to the White House, citing disagreements with the chief executive's political agenda, and Alex Wagner was not going to let them get away without being ridiculed. On Tuesday’s NOW with Alex Wagner, the host and her panelists pilloried the three players who chose to stay behind for ideological reasons while the rest of their teammates were honored by the president for their perfect 17-0 season 41 years ago.
Wagner hyped the implications of the players’ decision: “But even the most feel-good White House ceremony seems to be threatened by ideology.” Threatened? It’s difficult to see how those three players’ lack of attendance threatened the ceremony. In fact, it didn’t, because the event went on as planned on Tuesday and received a love letter in at least one outlet, the Washington Post. [See my colleague's piece on that here.]
MSNBC contributor Joy Reid, who is from Florida, somehow projected the three Miami players’ decisions onto the entire Sunshine State: “I always hug Florida with one hand and push it like sort of gently away with the other... I mean look, Florida's got a very right-wing element to it.”
These are men who played professional football in the state of Florida. It’s ridiculous for Reid to try and indict Florida over this. The three players in question – Bob Kuechenberg, Jim Langer, and Manny Fernandez – are originally from Indiana, Minnesota, and California, respectively. At any rate, they're certainly entitled to their political opinions about the present administration, and entitled to politely decline an invitation which is clearly as much a chummy photo-op for Obama as it is an honor for the team.
Wagner ended the segment by placing those three Dolphins in the context of recent sports history: “[T]hey’re following in the footsteps of Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas and [Baltimore] Ravens center Matt Birk, who also snubbed the president. A long line of sports heroes, or anti-heroes.” Both Thomas and Birk snubbed Obama, but there have been plenty of athletes who snubbed Republican presidents, like Manny Ramirez, Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird, who snubbed George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan respectively.
Consistency would require denouncing those athletes as "anti-heroes," but that would also require admitting that left-leaning athletes have snubbed Republican presidents, which eviscerates the narrative that MSNBC would prefer to weave.
Below is a transcript of the discussion:
ALEX WAGNER: It was one of the few Washington traditions that was above politics, but apparently not anymore. Today the 1972 Miami Dolphins will visit the White House 40 years after their 1972 Super Bowl victory and their unmatched 17-0 NFL record. President Nixon did not host the team at the time because, in typical Nixon fashion, he wanted to snub his opponents. For the record, Nixon supported the Dolphins’ Super Bowl opponents, the Washington Redskins. That's something Richard Nixon and I could have agreed on. But even the most feel-good White House ceremony seems to be threatened by ideology. At least three ‘72 Dolphins players are refusing the White House invite because -- wait for it, Joy -- politics. Former lineman Bob Kuchenberg told the South Florida Sun Sentinel, quote, “Mom said if you have nothing good to say about someone, then don't say anything. I don't have anything good to say about someone.” Center Jim Langer added, “We’ve got some real moral compass issues in Washington. I don't want to be in a room with those people and pretend I'm having a good time.” Because it would be impossible to you to pretend to be having a good time when being honored by the president of the United States at the White House.
JOY REID: A.k.a., those people.
WAGNER: I mean, this is a continuing thread of what we were just talking about, but – disrespect.
REID: Yeah, and you know what, if this is one of those segments in which I, you know, I always hug Florida with one hand and push it like sort of gently away with the other.
WAGNER: Heisman it?
REID: Just Heisman it a little bit. I mean look, Florida's got a very right-wing element to it. And I just wonder whether or not this person would have had moral compass issues going to the Nixon White House given the fact that Nixon ultimately had to resign.
WAGNER: Right, it’s true. Of all the moral compasses to be sort of spinning round and round, it’s Barack Obama's White House that makes your magnetic pole shift. I don’t know, Josh, are we on the same page here?
JOSH BARRO: I mean, I think it's kind of tacky to not show up. I think, you know, it's something that you do to be polite. But on the other hand, I think it’s this very specific American thing we have, where we create this norm where the president is both the head of government and the head of state and you're supposed to treat them as a representative of the country. And I feel like in other countries, particularly in Europe, you're allowed to basically just say that you hate the prime minister and not make nice with him and it doesn't count as any reflection on your view of the country.
WAGNER: It's not like they're going to ask them -- they're not going to be asked to talk about the Affordable Care Act or a grand bargain. These are football players who had some great season a bunch of decades ago, and very nicely the president is offering to honor them.
REID: I think now – it’s not like there’s going to be a big giant Obamacare check, and they’re all going to have to hold it like the publisher's clearinghouse. I mean, they’re just going to get a nice ceremony from the president. It is very tacky to make this an issue.
WAGNER: There’s a little wine, a little cheese. Anyway, they’re following the halcyon footsteps of – the hallowed halls – they’re following in the footsteps of Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas and Ravens center Matt Birk, who also snubbed the president. A long line of sports heroes, or antiheroes.