The president has waged a sustained campaign against professional athletes who do not stand for the national anthem, which has exacerbated cultural divisions in the country and turned many of the nation’s top players against him.
Instead of canceling Tuesday’s White House event altogether, Trump decided to allow fans to come to celebrate the flag. About 50 U.S. flags have been set up on the South Lawn of the White House, and the “president’s own” Marine Corps band is expected to play while the Army chorus sings.
None of the Eagles players took a knee or refused to stand for the playing of the anthem last season, though some have found other ways to demonstrate their solidarity with players who have knelt to draw attention to what they say is police mistreatment of African-American suspects.
After intense pressure from Trump, the NFL announced last month that it would fine players who don’t stand for the national anthem if they are on the field when it is played. But the policy allows them to stay in the locker room during performances of the “Star-Spangled Banner”
Trump said Tuesday that there’s no difference in his mind.
“Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!” he tweeted.
Sanders said the Eagles gave the White House a list of 81 members of the organization — players, coaches and other personnel — who planned to attend. But as the event drew closer, it became clear few players would be at the White House.
The Eagles tried to reschedule, but the dates the team suggested coincided with the president’s upcoming foreign travel, she said.
“The White House, despite sensing a lack of good faith, nonetheless attempted to work with the Eagles over the weekend to change the event format that could accommodate a smaller group of players,” she said. “Unfortunately, the Eagles offered to send only a tiny handful of representatives, while making clear that the great majority of players would not attend the event, despite planning to be in D.C. today.”
Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., slammed the president for pulling the invitation to the Eagles personnel who planned to attend.
“A championship team visiting the White House is a time-honored tradition, not something that was ever political,” he said in a text exchange with NBC News. “Unfortunately, Trump has now ruined this American tradition.”