Digging deeper into a culture war that he’s repeatedly stoked, President Donald Trump on Monday called off a visit to the White House by the Philadelphia Eagles, citing the dispute over whether NFL players protesting racial injustice must stand during the playing of the national anthem.
None of the Eagles took a knee during the anthem in 2017.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney replied with his own statement, saying that he is “equally proud of the Eagles’ activism off the field” and that the players “represent the diversity of our nation — a nation in which we are free to express our opinions.”
“Disinviting them from the White House only proves that our President is not a true patriot, but a fragile egomaniac obsessed with crowd size and afraid of the embarrassment of throwing a party to which no one wants to attend,” Kenney said.
Last week, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said he would not attend the ceremony because he didn’t want to be part of a photo op and wanted “to avoid being used as any kind of pawn.” In addition to Jenkins, defensive end Chris Long was the most outspoken player against going. Quarterback Carson Wentz had planned to attend.
It was unclear exactly what prompted the change of plans. The White House did not immediately respond to questions about what had sparked the decision and why the circumstances were different from other events honoring winning teams, which some players have boycotted.
Late Monday, though, Trump wrote on Twitter that “Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event.”
Wide receiver Torrey Smith, who said previously that he planned to skip the visit, responded with a series of tweets.
“So many lies,” he wrote, adding, “Not many people were going to go.”
Smith, who played on the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia team before being traded to the Carolina Panthers in March, added: “No one refused to go simply because Trump ‘insists’ folks stand for the anthem. … The President continues to spread the false narrative that players are anti military.”
He went on: “There are a lot of people on the team that have plenty of different views. The men and women that wanted to go should’ve been able to go. It’s a cowardly act to cancel the celebration because the majority of the people don’t want to see you. To make it about the anthem is foolish.”
The announcement was the latest signal that tensions remain high around the NFL protests that began in 2016 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began silently kneeling on the sidelines while the anthem played. Kaepernick’s protest was an effort to raise awareness around systemic racism and, specifically, the killing of black men by police.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., invited the Eagles to come to Capitol Hill.
“I’m proud of what the @Eagles accomplished this year. I’m skipping this political stunt at the White House and just invited the Eagles to Congress. @Eagles How about a tour of the Capitol?” he wrote.
White House legislative director Marc Short said in an appearance on CNN that he didn’t know who had canceled on whom, but said, “It’s unfortunate when politics gets in the middle of this.”