President Donald Trump disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles late Monday from a planned White House celebration of the team’s Super Bowl championship, opening a new salvo in his culture war over National Football League players standing for the national anthem.
Less than 24 hours before the players were expected to arrive in the Rose Garden, Trump said he would appear with only the team’s fans and the United States Marine Band and Army Chorus, and the anthem would be played “loudly and proudly.”
The decision came after some Eagles players said they would skip the ceremony to protest the president and his rhetoric. In recent seasons, a number of NFL players — starting with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — have elected to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem to protest police brutality. Trump has repeatedly attacked those players, turning the controversy into a political cudgel that he sees as beneficial to his standing with supporters.
“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,” Trump said in a statement, issued by the press secretary.
A representative for the Eagles could not be reached immediately for comment. A spokesman for the NFL did not respond to a request for comment.
A senior administration official said the Eagles promised to have about 70 people there last week. By Monday, the team said only 10 to 12 people might come, this person said, creating a meager celebration. Trump deemed the smaller crowd unsatisfactory, aides said.
The president plans a “very patriotic” celebration, this person said, and will highlight why it is important to stand for the national anthem to the Eagles fans.
Kellyanne Conway, the presidential counselor and a die-hard Eagles fan, was helping to plan the event, according to two White House officials.
A second senior administration official said some players had told the White House that they were angry about new NFL rules on the national anthem, and that spurred their skipping the event.
A number of star players — including Chris Long and Malcolm Jenkins — had already said they were not planning to attend the event in protest of Trump. Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie called the presidency “disastrous” and said many players did not want to support Trump, according to an audio recording of an owners’ meeting obtained by the New York Times.
Former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith ripped Trump on Twitter late Monday. “So many lies,” Smith wrote, adding: “1. Not many people were going to go 2. No one refused to go simply because Trump ‘insists’ folks stand for the anthem 3. The President continues to spread the false narrative that players are anti military.”
It is unclear how many fans will attend the celebration without the team present. Trump said he expected 1,000.
Sen. Robert Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat being challenged this year by a Trump-aligned Republican, tweeted late Monday that he had invited the Eagles to forgo the Rose Garden for a tour of the Capitol. “I’m skipping this political stunt at the White House and just invited the Eagles to Congress,” Casey wrote.
The president has repeatedly raised the national anthem issue after a raucous rally last fall during which he called for owners to fire “son of a bitch” players who don’t stand for the song before kickoff.
Administration officials said Trump was surprised by the cacophonous and continuing cheers and became convinced that making players stand for the anthem — and repeatedly railing about the issue on Twitter — is a political winner. He watched the league’s approval ratings drop — particularly among his supporters — and frequently quizzed senior administration officials in the Oval Office about his ongoing feud.
The NFL said last month that players on the field for the national anthem would have to stand; those not interested in standing for the patriotic tune could stay in the locker room, in a move widely seen as a capitulation to Trump to stem bad publicity and fears of declining attendance.
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