Several members of the Columbia University fencing team wanted to confront President Donald Trump on Friday over his administration’s stance on gender issues, as they joined around 20 other NCAA title-winning teams for the White House’s National Champions Day.
Members of the Columbia fencing team had prepared a letter disavowing the Trump administration’s policies, with two captains signing several copies. However, team captain Elise Gout told USA TODAY Sports that before a scheduled photo with Trump, she was informed the Secret Service would not allow the athletes to directly present a letter to the president.
“We passed the letter to a member of the (White House) press team, but it remains unclear if (the press team spokesman) will actually deliver it as he said he would,” Gout told USA TODAY Sports.
The letter, according to a copy initially provided to The Washington Post, read: “The victory for which you mean to honor us today cannot be separated from the diversity that comprises our team. We as collegiate fencers have committed our athletic careers to understanding how our individual strengths, irrespective of gender, may be best leveraged for the advancement of the collective. But while ours is a victory born from values of gender equality, yours is one shadowed by continued acts of gender-based prejudice and partisanship.
“As a symbol of our solidarity with those impacted by gender-based discrimination, we have chosen to wear white buttons during our visit. For us, these buttons and the movement behind them extend far beyond our own experiences. We are one small part of a much larger team of athletes, across sports and across U.S. history, who have found within their platforms a responsibility to fight for greater freedoms.”
Among the other Division I teams in attendance on Friday were the Wisconsin women’s hockey champs, Penn State wrestling champs, Maryland women’s lacrosse champs, TCU women’s rifle champs and many others.
Fencing team captain Nolen Scruggs said before Friday’s event that while he respected some of his teammates’ decisions not to attend, he thought it was important to show up and share the team’s message.
“It’s one thing to decline the invitation, but that’s quiet,” Scruggs told The Post. “If they plan to use us as something to place on Twitter or as a showcase, we want them to acknowledge the values we have and contribute to those values of gender equality and diversity.”
Trump has welcomed NCAA champion teams in the past; however, he has been at odds with several professional champion teams, most notably the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. Trump rescinded an invitation to the organization two years ago following public comments saying they would not attend.
“We’ve had a great time,” Trump said Friday, according to a White House pool reporter. “And meeting these athletes — they’re real athletes, I can tell you. It’s a tremendous achievement. And we’re bringing many of them over to the Oval Office. I guess all of them. So far, nobody has turned that one down — (laughter) — because it is a special place.”