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

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks as the women's and men's NCAA Champion teams from the 2022-2023 season are celebrated during College Athlete Day on the South Lawn of the White House, Monday, June 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – Vice President Kamala Harris saluted more than a thousand U.S. college athletes from championship teams who gathered Monday at the White House South Lawn, saying that sports have a "very special way of bringing people together."

President Joe Biden had been scheduled to greet the athletes, but he had a root canal and was unable to attend the outdoor event on an overcast morning. The first of its kind assembly comes as collegiate sports have increasingly spilled into the political arena.

There was the recent drama over the champion women's basketball team from Louisiana State University going to the White House after first lady, Jill Biden, suggested that the runners-up from the University of Iowa should also come. The LSU team ultimately went 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.

The focus on Monday was on the role that athletes play in U.S. society as role models.

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

The event included 47 teams from 19 different sports, though 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 calendar and time of year.”

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