President Donald Trump withdrew his invitation to welcome Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles to the White House Monday evening.
Several prominent team players—including safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive end Chris Long—had announced they would not attend the meeting as a protest against Trump.
The news comes amid controversy over players standing for the National Anthem at NFL games.
“The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow,” Trump wrote in a statement.
“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.”
The President explained fans were “still invited to the White House to be part of a different type of ceremony”.
The ceremony, Trump wrote, would honor the USA, pay tribute to the heroes who fought to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem.
“I will be there at 3 p.m. with the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus to celebrate America,” he said.
It’s an unprecedented move by the President—the NBA champion, Golden State Warriors, declined an invitation from Trump to visit the White House after their 2017 championship win, but presidents usually honor their invitations to championship teams.
The debate centers on Long and Jenkins’ outspoken support of San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
The NFL owners adopted a new policy on May 23 that will allow players who do not wish to stand for the National Anthem to remain in the tunnel. The NFL can also fine teams whose players do not stand and “show respect” during the anthem. Trump also said players who chose not to stand “shouldn’t be in the country”.
According to several reports, fewer than 10 players were intending to attend the White House event.
Wide receiver Torrey Smith wrote in a tweet: “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.”
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
— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) June 4, 2018
Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said he’s skipping the White House event, and instead invited the team to take a tour of the US Capitol.
“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 on Twitter.
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? https://t.co/niWR7zkSYx
— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) June 4, 2018
The team’s statement, released late Monday night, did not address Trump’s action directly:
“It has been incredibly thrilling to celebrate our first Super Bowl Championship. Watching the entire Eagles community come together has been an inspiration. We are truly grateful for all the support we have received and we are looking forward to continuing our preparations for the 2018 season.”