Stanley Cup champion Penguins visit Trump at White House

(AP Photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is honoring the Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins, calling them “true champions and incredible patriots.”

Trump welcomed the Penguins into the Oval Office on Tuesday. He celebrated their second consecutive championship in the East Room of the White House and singled out the achievements of playoff MVP Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and American Phil Kessel, among others.

Trump has grabbed a number of sports headlines in recent weeks, including his criticism of NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem and his decision to disinvite the NBA champion Golden State Warriors to the White House.

He joked that Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle should help him renegotiate NAFTA but avoided any talk about other sports. The Penguins are the fourth championship team and third pro team to visit Trump at the White House after the NFL’s New England Patriots, Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs and college football’s Clemson Tigers.

(AP Photo)

Crosby, coach Mike Sullivan and other members of the Penguins said the visit had nothing to do with politics. The team said it respected the tradition of visiting the White House.

Sullivan said after the ceremony that he wouldn’t mind if one of his players took a knee during the national anthem.

Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown, one of 18 black players in the NHL, became the first hockey player to engage in an anthem protest when he raised his fist while standing on the bench before a game Saturday night.

Trump has called on NFL owners to fire players who don’t stand for the anthem and urged fans to boycott games in a series of tweets. He tweeted that he instructed Vice President Mike Pence to leave a game between the San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts on Sunday if there were any anthem protests, which Pence did. Hours before the Penguins visit, Trump tweeted that tax law should be changed to punish the NFL over the anthem protests.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told The Associated Press recently that said he respects players’ views on political and social issues and “people are going to have to decide what makes them comfortable.” Bettman said social issues “are a matter of individual belief and individual choice.”