The Eagles had been scheduled to take part in the annual tradition, but several prominent players said they planned to skip the ceremony over Trump’s criticism of player protests during the national anthem.
In an unusual statement early Monday evening, Trump said the Eagles “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 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2018
Trump has repeatedly denigrated athletes who don’t stand for the national anthem at campaign rallies and on Twitter. Vice President Mike Pence attended an Indianapolis Colts game last season and then left as soon as the expected protest took place.
Late last month, NFL owners announced a leaguewide policy requiring players and team personnel to stand for the anthem if they are on the field when it is played. Teams can be fined if their employees sit or kneel, and the teams can choose to fine personnel.
It was Trump who demanded in September that NFL teams “fine or suspend” players who don’t stand for the anthem.
On Monday, Trump appeared eager to drive a wedge between the Eagles’ players and their fans.
“The Eagles wanted to send a smaller delegation, but the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better,” he said. “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.”
The new ceremony, scheduled for 3 p.m. ET, will “celebrate America” with performances by military bands, he said.
The Eagles had previously said the team would attend the ceremony as an organization but leave it up to individual players to decide whether to join in.
Several — including Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins, a leader and organizer among players who have chosen to protest during the anthem — said they didn’t want to go.
The Eagles’ owner, Jeffrey Lurie — who was secretly recorded calling Trump’s presidency “disastrous” — said after the policy was announced last month that “there are so many people who are hurting and marginalized, which is why I am proud of our players for continuously working to influence positive change.”
Although he has often taken aim at African-American athletes, and although the protests are designed to highlight racial disparities in the justice system, Trump has denied that his criticism of players is intended to sow racial discord.
The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2017
Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Brendan Boyle, both Democrats from Pennsylvania, quickly invited the Eagles to the Capitol, and Boyle trolled Trump on Twitter.
A poll conducted by the market research company Morning Consult after the anthem policy was announced suggested that 53 percent of adults approved of the rules, while 32 percent disapproved and 15 percent didn’t know or had no opinion.
In September, when Trump pressured the NFL to punish players and withdrew the Warriors’ invitation to the White House, former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele accused him of intentionally dividing the public.
“It’s very disappointing — the same level of stuff we get from the president that doesn’t advance a genuine conversation but polarizes people into camps,” Steele said at the time. “This is asinine.”
Jonathan Allen reported from Washington. Alex Johnson reported from Los Angeles.