Trump touts celebration of US after canceling visit by NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles

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Instead of hailing the Super Bowl champions for their work on the field and in the community, the White House is staging a “Celebration of America” featuring music provided by U.S. military bands and choruses.

WASHINGTON — A day after scrubbing a White House visit by the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, President Donald Trump appeared to challenge part of a new NFL policy that allows players who want to protest during the national anthem to do so in the locker room.

The policy requires players to stand for the anthem if they are on the field. Trump had praised the policy after the NFL announced it.

Digging deeper into a culture war that he’s repeatedly stoked, Trump tweeted Tuesday: “Honoring America! NFL, no escaping to Locker Rooms!”

Instead of hailing Eagles players for their work on the field and in the community, the White House is staging a “Celebration of America” featuring music provided by U.S. military bands and choruses.

“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. Honoring America! NFL, no escaping to Locker Rooms!” Trump tweeted.

In a separate tweet, he named the championship teams that have come to the White House during his presidency, including the Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Penguins, New England Patriots and college sports teams.

The announcement was the latest signal that tensions remain high around the NFL protests that began in 2016 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began silently kneeling on the sidelines while the anthem played. Kaepernick’s protest was an effort to raise awareness around systemic racism and, specifically, the killing of black men by police.

Trump said in a statement Monday that some Eagles players “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.”

He said the team wanted to send a smaller delegation Tuesday, but “the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better.”

None of the Eagles took a knee during the anthem in 2017.

One person set to attend the ceremony told The Associated Press less than half of the team’s 53-man roster planned to go. The person spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the decision.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney replied with his own statement, saying that he is “equally proud of the Eagles’ activism off the field” and that the players “represent the diversity of our nation — a nation in which we are free to express our opinions.”

“Disinviting them from the White House only proves that our President is not a true patriot, but a fragile egomaniac obsessed with crowd size and afraid of the embarrassment of throwing a party to which no one wants to attend,” Kenney said.

Last week, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said he would not attend the ceremony because he didn’t want to be part of a photo op and wanted “to avoid being used as any kind of pawn.” In addition to Jenkins, defensive end Chris Long was the most outspoken player against going. Quarterback Carson Wentz had planned to attend.

It was unclear exactly what prompted the change of plans. The White House did not immediately respond to questions about what had sparked the decision and why the circumstances were different from other events honoring winning teams, which some players have boycotted.

Late Monday, though, Trump wrote on Twitter that “Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event.”

Several players asked about Trump’s decision not to host them declined to respond. The Eagles issued a statement without directly addressing the White House cancellation.

“Watching the entire Eagles community come together has been an inspiration,” the team statement read. “We are truly grateful for all of the support we have received and we are looking forward to continuing our preparations for the 2018 season.”

Wide receiver Torrey Smith, who said previously that he planned to skip the visit, responded with a series of tweets.

“So many lies,” he wrote, adding, “Not many people were going to go.”

Smith, who played on the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia team before being traded to the Carolina Panthers in March, added: “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.”

He went on: “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.”

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., invited the Eagles to come to Capitol Hill.

“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.

White House legislative director Marc Short said in an appearance on CNN that he didn’t know who had canceled on whom, but said, “It’s unfortunate when politics gets in the middle of this.”

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