The Penguins will visit the White House on Tuesday to commemorate last season's Stanley Cup Championship win, becoming the first professional sports team to attend a White House ceremony since President Donald Trump criticized NFL players last month.
Trump said first at a political rally in Alabama, and later via Twitter, that professional athletes who protest police violence by kneeling during the national anthem should be fired.
The trip is an annual rite for title-winning professional and college sports teams, but the President rescinded an invitation to the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors after point guard Steph Curry expressed concern over a possible ceremony. He and coach Steve Kerr have been vocal critics of Trump's policies since last year.
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
Some on both traditional and social media have called the Penguins' decision to accept the invite an implicit endorsement of Trump.
"The Penguins as an organization and our players have chosen not to use this platform to take a stance," Pens coach Mike Sullivan said in September. "There appears to be a perception that we have. And it's [the] wrong [perception]."
Sullivan reiterated that the team's attendance at the ceremony does not reflect the Penguins organization's position, nor its players' stance. The third-year coach added that the team respects the rights of other professional athletes who choose to openly protest during games or express themselves in other ways.
Tuesday's White House trip will be the team's third such visit since 2009, the most recent coming last year after winning the 2016 Stanley Cup Championship.
Vice President Mike Pence left an NFL game on Sunday between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers early after some players knelt during the national anthem, as expected. The out-and-back trip was reportedly covered by taxpayer funds.