President Donald Trump reignited his feud with the NFL on Monday, abruptly canceling a White House reception for the Philadelphia Eagles over players who kneel during the national anthem to protest social injustice.
In a brief statement, Trump said he was scrapping Tuesday’s scheduled reception for the reigning Super Bowl champions after several Eagles players indicated they planned not to attend.
“The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow,” Trump said.
“They disagree with their president because he insists that they proudly stand for the national anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country.
“The Eagles wanted to send a smaller delegation, but the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better.”
Trump said in lieu of the reception, he would host an alternative ceremony for fans that would “honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it and loudly and proudly play the national anthem.”
The Eagles put out a very non-comittal statement after Trump axed the reception.
In a statement, they said it was thrilling to win the Super Bowl and “watching the entire Eagles community come together has been an inspiration. We are truly grateful for all of the support we have received and we are looking forward to continuing our preparations for the 2018 season.”
Trump’s move was the latest twist in an acrimonious feud between Trump and protesting NFL players.
Trump triggered widespread protests by mostly black NFL athletes last year after describing players who kneeled during the national anthem to protest racial injustice as “sons of bitches” who should be fired.
The Eagles’ roster contains several prominent figures from the NFL player protest movement, and some, including safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive end Chris Long, had already indicated they planned not to attend.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has also been critical of Trump, and reportedly described his presidency as “disastrous,” according to a New York Times report earlier this year.
– ‘So many lies’ –
Nevertheless, the Eagles had stopped short of pulling out of the traditional White House reception for the winners of the Super Bowl.
Head coach Doug Pederson instead said last month it would be left to individual players to decide whether they wished to attend.
Former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted that “not many” Eagles players had planned to go anyway.
“So many lies,” Smith wrote in response to Trump’s White House statement.
“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.”
Democratic Senator Bob Casey, from the swing state of Pennsylvania, said he was skipping Trump’s “political stunt” and instead invited the Eagles to tour the US Capitol.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said disinviting the Eagles “only proves the President is not a true patriot.”
Kenney’s chief of staff, Jane Slusser, added: “Our party was bigger than yours,” a passing reference to Trump’s boastful comments targeting the North Korean leader before they agreed to meet at a summit next week.
Trump has enthusiastically stoked the embers of the controversy in recent weeks, welcoming a new policy announced by NFL owners last month requiring players to stand during renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” unless they stay in the locker room.
Trump responded to the NFL’s new rule by stating that players should not be allowed to remain in the locker room.
“You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing… Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country,” Trump said on May 24.
Colin Kaepernick, the then-quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, began the kneeling protests in 2016 to draw attention to police brutality and racial inequality.
Kaepernick’s protest followed a wave of deaths of black men during encounters with law enforcement.
Trump had a similar rift with the NBA champion Golden State Warriors earlier this year.
The president had withdrawn an invitation to the team to attend a White House reception after star Stephen Curry and other players indicated a reluctance to attend.
The Warriors instead took a group of children on a visit to Washington’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.