President Trump on Tuesday intensified his all-out assault on the NFL a day after scrapping a White House celebration for the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
In an early morning tweet, Trump lambasted the NFL’s new policy allowing protesting players to remain in the locker room for the national anthem. The rule, which the president previously applauded, requires players on the field to stand.
“Honoring America! NFL, no escaping to Locker Rooms!” he wrote.
Trump’s moves have reignited a culture war that has pitted his mostly white, conservative base against the league’s African-American players and many of their white teammates.
The president made the surprise decision late Monday to cancel Tuesday’s White House ceremony for the Eagles, which typically features a laudatory speech by the commander in chief focusing on the team’s victories on and off the field. The decision came after the president was informed that only a small number of Eagles players would be attending.
The White House accused the Eagles of acting in bad faith, claiming the team initially submitted a list of 81 players, coaches and staff to attend the event before reaching out last Friday to attempt to reschedule.
The Eagles suggested alternate dates that coincided with Trump’s North Korea summit and “offered to send only a tiny handful of representatives,” the White House said.
“In other words, the vast majority of the Eagles team decided to abandon their fans,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
Instead, Trump is hosting what the White House is calling a “Celebration of America” that will include military bands playing the national anthem and other patriotic songs.
“We will proudly be playing the National Anthem and other wonderful music celebrating our Country today at 3 P.M., The White House, with the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus,” Trump tweeted.
Trump singled out other sports teams who have come to celebrate their championships with him, tweeting: “We have had many Championship teams recently at the White House including the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Penguins, New England Patriots, Alabama and Clemson National Champions, and many others.”
The president’s decision is causing new headaches for the NFL’s owners, led by Commissioner Roger Goodell, who sought to appease Trump by crafting a new national anthem policy.
The issue has been a constant source of tension with Trump since 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the anthem to protest racial injustice. The signal caller was subsequently released and has failed to sign with a new team, which prompted him to file a collusion complaint against the league.
Trump cited the anthem issue in a statement announcing the event’s cancellation Monday night, saying members of the Eagles refused to attend because 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.”
Fewer than 10 members of the team were expected to attend the White House ceremony, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
But the disagreement runs deeper than just the anthem issue; none of the Eagles knelt during the national anthem during the 2017 season. Members of the team, including Chris Long and Malcolm Jenkins, said they would not attend because of Trump’s response to last year’s racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., among other issues.
“So many lies,” tweeted former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith. “Not many people were going to go … No one refused to go simply because Trump ‘insists’ folks stand for the anthem … The President continues to spread the false narrative that players are anti military.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) questioned Trump’s patriotism in a tweet late Monday.
“I’m proud of the Eagles on & off the field,” he wrote. “Our players represent the diversity of our nation—a nation where we’re free to express our opinions. Disinviting them only proves the President is not a true patriot.”
The NFL’s players union said in a statement that it was “disappointed” by Trump’s decision, noting it would lead to the cancellation of charity events in the Washington area.
“NFL players love their country, support our troops, give back to their communities and strive to make America a better place,” the union said.
Eagles players were further incensed by a Fox News segment on the cancellation that showed photos of Eagles players kneeling. The photos, however, showed players kneeling in prayer, not in protest.
“Imagine wanting to please the boss so very badly that you run stills of guys knelt down PRAYING during pregame,” tweeted Long. “Not one Eagles player knelt for the anthem this yr. Keep carrying his water to sow division while misrepresenting Christian men. Aren’t many of your viewers.. nevermind.”
Fox later apologized for the error.
“During our report about President Trump canceling the Philadelphia Eagles trip to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl win, we showed unrelated footage of players kneeling in prayer,” Christopher Wallace, executive producer of “Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream,” said in a statement. “To clarify, no members of the team knelt in protest during the national anthem throughout regular or post-season last year. We apologize for the error.”
BY JORDAN FABIAN – 06/05/18