U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to disinvite the Philadelphia Eagles from a White House ceremony Tuesday to mark the team’s Super Bowl win, deepening his feud with National Football League players.
Trump announced the decision Monday evening after an unknown number of Eagles decided against attending the event with a president who has repeatedly criticized players for protesting police brutality by kneeling during the National Anthem. Trump was facing a repeat of last year’s ceremony, when several New England Patriots, including quarterback Tom Brady, opted 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,” the president added, “but the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better.”
Many professional athletes have publicly voiced their discontent with Trump’s presidency, and some professional football players — most of them black — drew his ire by staging silent civil rights protests by taking a knee or sitting on the bench while the national anthem was played before games last year.
In a tweet later on Monday night, Trump said, “The Philadelphia Eagles Football Team was invited to the White House. Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event. Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!”
It’s unclear how many Eagles had declined Trump’s invitation. The White House re-branded the event, scheduled for 3 p.m. local time, as “the celebration of America.”
“These fans are still invited to the White House to be part of a different type of ceremony — one that will honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem,” Trump said in the statement.
Trump and the White House have spent much of the past year waging a public relations campaign against the NFL after several players staged protests during the national anthem in 2017.
At an Alabama political rally last September, Trump called for firing of players who take part in the protests. Team owners should “get that son of a bitch off the field,” Trump said, drawing criticism from players and some owners.
Several top Trump’s administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have publicly called for the NFL owners to create a new rule banning players from kneeling during the anthem.
Last month, the league unveiled a new policy that requires players to stand during the national anthem or face team fines. Players who remain in the locker room would not face penalties. Trump said he welcomed the policy, but wished it would’ve gone further.
“I don’t think people should be staying in the locker rooms,” Trump said last month in an interview on Fox News’ Fox & Friends program. “You shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”
Several professional athletes have publicly criticized Trump and accused him of racism, citing his equivocation over white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., last year and other actions. The NBA’s Golden State Warriors didn’t visit the White House to celebrate their 2017 championship. The team instead visited Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington.
Before last year’s event, Brady cited “personal family matters” as his reason for not attending. Others, including safety Devin McCourty, cited political opposition to Trump’s presidency.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to questions about why the president made a different decision for the event with the Eagles. Representatives of the NFL and the Eagles didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Eagles won the Super Bowl on Feb. 4, beating the Patriots. Patriots owner Bob Kraft is a billionaire and personal friend of Trump’s of more than two decades. Kraft Group, a firm associated with Kraft, gave Trump’s inaugural committee $1 million.
In a recording released by the New York Times, Jeffrey Lurie, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Eagles, called the Trump presidency “disastrous.” The recording was made at a league meeting last fall.