First Lady Jill Biden rankled sports traditionalists this week when she extended a since-retracted invite to the NCAA women’s basketball runner-up, Iowa, to join the champion LSU Lady Tigers for a White House visit, citing the Hawkeyes’ good sportsmanship in defeat. The walk back of that offer reiterated what American sports fans already know: Losers don’t get to shake hands with the president of the United States. But the heated discussion made us wonder this: Who all does?
Baseball Champions: The tradition of sports teams visiting the White House began on August 10, 1865, shortly after the Civil War, when then-President Andrew Johnson hosted the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Washington Nationals of the National Association of Base Ball Players, an amateur league. (The Atlantics won the league title in 1864, while the Nats scored an invite because Johnson was a fan of the local team.)
The first MLB champions believed to visit the White House were the 1924 Washington Senators, who traveled two miles from their home ballpark to shake hands with Calvin Coolidge the following season.
The Toronto Blue Jays became the first Canadian team to visit the White House when they accepted George H.W. Bush’s invitation after winning the World Series in 1992. The team declined to go again when they repeated in 1993, but no MLB team has turned down the offer since.
Little League World Series: When an American team wins the Little League World Series, they’ve been invited to the White House since at least 1992, when a team of 12-year-old boys from Long Beach, California, were celebrated in a joint ceremony along with the Blue Jays. The kids later said the Jays threw them a party the night before and signed autographs.
NBA Champions: The Celtics became the first champion hoopsters to go to the White House when fellow Bostonian John F. Kennedy invited the team to visit in January 1963 after they won their fourth consecutive title. The tradition of NBA champs visiting the White House was solidified during the Ronald Reagan era and continued apace until Donald Trump assumed office in 2017, when Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry said he didn’t want to meet the sitting president. Trump took to Twitter the following day and disinvited the Warriors, who later wound up hanging out with former president Obama when they visited D.C. NBA champions continued staying away from the White House during the Trump era, but the tradition resumed when the Milwaukee Bucks visited Joe Biden in 2021.
WNBA: The 1999 Houston Comets became the first professional women’s team to be invited to the White House after winning the WNBA championship — which happened to be their third in a row. Each WNBA champ was invited annually until Trump took office in 2017 and invited no teams during his tenure. Champions resumed visiting the White House when Biden assumed office in January 2021.
NFL Champions: Though the Super Bowl has been played since 1966, its champion was not invited to a White House fête until Jimmy Carter extended the honor to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1980. The catch? They had to share the celebration with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were also coming off a World Series victory. (Pittsburgh mayor Richard Caliguiri gifted Carter with both a Pirates cap and a Terrible Towel).
Reagan made welcoming Super Bowl winners an annual occurrence in the mid-’80s, though wars and other disasters preempted many teams’ visits. The Challenger explosion two days after the Bears won the Super Bowl in 1986 precluded a White House stop by that team, though the squad later got to celebrate in D.C. when Chicagoan (and huge Bears fan) Obama extended an invite in 2011. The New York Giants also missed out on a West Wing swing after winning Super Bowl XXV in 1991; the U.S. had entered the Gulf War ten days earlier, making a White House football fête politically untenable.
The 2000 Super Bowl–winning Rams had their White House invitation rescinded, as Bill Clinton was too busy at Camp David trying to broker a Middle East peace deal between Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The 2003 champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, didn’t go to the White House either that year because the second Iraq War began two months after their Super Bowl victory.
The annual tradition resumed in 2004 and continued every year until 2018, when the Philadelphia Eagles were uninvited to the White House by then-President Trump after reports swirled that only a handful of players would show up to shake his hand. The 2019 Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, didn’t attend, either. When Joe Biden took office, the White House visits resumed.
Fun fact: The 1972 Miami Dolphins — the only team to ever go undefeated all season en route to a Super Bowl victory — were finally invited to the White House by Obama in 2013.
NHL Champions: The first time hockey players were invited to the White House to celebrate winning the Stanley Cup was when super sports fan Reagan welcomed a handful of New York Islanders in 1983. It didn’t become an annual tradition until George H.W. Bush toasted the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991.
What happens when one of the NHL’s Canadian teams wins? Well, our friends from the Great White North haven’t captured a Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens did in 1993, and that team skipped the trip.
Major League Soccer: After winning the first two MLS Cups back-to-back in 1996 and 1997, D.C. United received a White House invitation from then-President Clinton in April of 1998. After an unexplained nine-year absence, winners of the MLS Cup have gone to the White House annually since the Houston Dynamo visited George W. Bush in 2007. Victors sat out the Trump years, but resumed the tradition when Biden was elected.
Olympians: If you win a gold medal for Team USA, there’s a good chance you will be invited to meet the president. In 1961, Wilma Rudolph visited the White House to speak with then-Vice-President Lyndon Johnson about physical fitness. Rudolph was coming off a performance at the 1960 Olympic games in Rome that saw her win gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and the 4x100 meters relay.
Figure skater Peggy Fleming and her mother, Doris, were treated to a private audience with Lyndon Johnson two months after she won the gold in figure skating in 1968 in Grenoble, France. Johnson even plucked a flower from the White House’s Rose Garden and pinned it to Fleming’s lapel, then gifted her with a gold charm bracelet.
By the time Carter was president, he began inviting Team USA members in large groups, including the “Miracle on Ice” hockey team that won gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
NASCAR champions: When NASCAR fan Carter was governor of Georgia and a long-shot presidential candidate, he told members of the racing community that he would invite them to the White House for the first time should he get elected. Carter kept his promise and even tapped Willie Nelson to play the event in 1978. Sadly for Carter, he missed the party as he got stuck at Camp David negotiating a peace agreement with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin.
NASCAR champions and their teams began making regular trips to the White House to celebrate while George W. Bush was president. That tradition has continued every year during the Obama, Trump, and Biden presidencies.
Tour de France winners: Only three Americans have ever won cycling’s biggest event: Greg LeMond, Lance Armstrong, and Floyd Landis. Armstrong was fêted in the Oval Office by George W. Bush in 2001 and even went on a bike ride with the president on his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Landis received a phone call after winning, but never got a visit after he was busted for doping weeks after his win. (Armstrong was later busted and stripped of his titles, too, but White House visits last forever.) LeMond — who won the Tour in 1986, 1989, and 1990 — finally got his flowers when Trump awarded him a Congressional Gold Medal in 2020.
Division I college football champions: Always invited, and no team has ever turned down the offer. The champions during the 2020 and 2021 seasons were unable to visit the White House due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
FCS college football champions: It’s happened twice: Bill Clinton invited Youngstown State in 1995, and Trump invited North Dakota State after they won in 2018.
Men’s and women’s Division I college basketball: Indiana’s men’s basketball team became the first collegiate champion to receive a White House invite from Gerald Ford in 1976. When UConn’s women’s head coach Geno Auriemma won his tenth national title and visited the White House for the third consecutive year in January 2016, then-President Obama joked that Auriemma had been there so many times he’d keep a room with a cot open for him. The invites to collegiate ballers evaporated when Trump assumed office later that month. In fact, only one champion out of the four major basketball associations in the U.S. (NBA, WNBA, and men’s and women’s collegiate basketball) was invited to the White House during Trump’s four years in office. That team? The Baylor Lady Bears, helmed by none other than LSU’s current head coach, Kim Mulkey.
College champions who don’t play football or basketball: George W. Bush began the tradition of inviting the champions of the non-basketball and -football Division I sports to one large ceremony each year. Even Trump’s 2017 event was a hit, attracting 18 championship teams, including Maryland’s men’s lacrosse team, Penn State’s women’s rugby team, Texas A&M’s women’s equestrian teams, and West Virginia’s co-ed rifle team.