NCAA champion athletes head to the White House, where Vice President Kamala Harris celebrates them

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris saluted more than a thousand American college athletes from championship teams who gathered on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday, saying the sport has “a very special to bring people together”.

President Joe Biden was scheduled to greet the athletes, but he had root canal treatment and was unable to attend the outdoor event on a cloudy morning. The first meeting of its kind comes as collegiate sports increasingly spill into the political arena.

There’s been the recent drama about Louisiana State University’s champion women’s basketball team heading to the White House after first lady Jill Biden suggested that the University finalists from Iowa should also come. The LSU team eventually made it to the White House despite initial resistance from star Angel Reese who said the team should visit former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. Collegiate sports have also faced questions about the participation of transgender athletes.

On Monday, the focus was on the role athletes play in American society as role models.

“You inspire so many people across our country, people you may never meet,” Harris said. “You remind us all of what we can achieve.”

The event featured 47 teams from 19 different sports, although there was one notable exception. The University of Georgia Bulldogs football team declined to attend the event because the date was “not feasible given the student-athlete schedule and time of year.”

Championship teams spanned NCAA divisions that include major universities and smaller colleges. There was the Vanderbilt University women’s bowling team, the Hobart College men’s ice hockey team, the Wellesley College rowing team, the men’s gymnastics and women’s water polo teams. Stanford University, among others.

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