US & Canada

Trump drops Philadelphia Eagles White House invitation over anthem protest

Rodney McLeod #23, Malcolm Jenkins #27 of the Philadelphia Eagles raise their fists in protest during the playing of the National Anthem as teammate Chris Long #56 shows support before a game against the Arizona Cardinals. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Eagles' Rodney McLeod (L) and Malcolm Jenkins (C) raise their fists in protest during the playing of the national anthem

President Donald Trump has cancelled the annual Super Bowl champions' White House visit after most players from the winning team did not want to attend.

He said the Philadelphia Eagles players disagreed with his view "that they proudly stand for the National Anthem".

But team members have not confirmed this is the reason they are boycotting.

Mr Trump has repeatedly criticised NFL players over the past two years who have knelt to protest against police treatment of African Americans.

According to the Associated Press news agency, no Eagles player knelt during the anthem in 2017.

The Eagles team posted on Twitter that they were "grateful for all of the support" and looking forward to the 2018 season, without mentioning the invite row.

But one player, Malcolm Jenkins, said he wanted "to avoid being used as any kind of pawn".

The NFL voted in May to make players on the pitch stand for the anthem.

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Media caption'The president has chosen to mix politics and sports'

What did Trump say?

"The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow," Mr Trump said in a statement on Monday.

"They disagree with their president because he insists that they proudly stand for the national anthem, hand on heart, in honour of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country."

He added "1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better" than the smaller delegation.

"These fans are still invited to the White House to be part of a different type of ceremony - one that will honour our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem."

Before the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl in February, several players had suggested they would skip the White House event that is typically held for American sports teams after winning championships.

In a statement, the White House said Tuesday's event was changed after "the vast majority of the Eagles team decided to abandon their fans".

The White House said the team had requested to reschedule the original event, but that the president would have been overseas for the dates they proposed.

"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.

"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."

Last year the president disinvited the National Basketball Association (NBA) champions, the Golden State Warriors, after its star player, Stephen Curry, suggested he might not attend a White House event honouring the team.

The show goes on

Analysis by Tara McKelvey, BBC White House reporter

By disinviting the Eagles, Trump was achieving two goals.

First - he was exacting revenge: he seemed to think that some of the players had failed to show proper respect for the national anthem and, even worse, turned down his invitation to the White House.

Second - he was connecting with his base of supporters.

More than 80% of Republicans say it's wrong for players to kneel during the anthem.

The team members who'd accepted his invitation may be disappointed - or at least surprised - by the last-minute cancellation.

What's the background?

The debate over the kneeling protests began in 2016, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem.

Similar demonstrations spread across the league, where most players are African-American.

Some kneeled, as Kaepernick had done, while others linked arms to show solidarity with the movement.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The protests began with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (c)

President Donald Trump was highly critical of the protests, calling them "disgraceful" and unpatriotic. He also urged the players to be fired.

More recently, the president suggested that those who did not stand for the anthem "shouldn't be in the country".

US Vice-President Mike Pence walked out of an NFL game because players from Kaepernick's team had knelt during the anthem.

But some current and former Philadelphia Eagles players have said the kneeling issue was not the primary reason why many team members did not want to visit the White House.

They have not elaborated.

What's the reaction?

The NFL Players Association, a union representing league players, released a statement expressing their disappointment with the president's decision.

Pennsylvania lawmakers were quick to respond to Mr Trump's statement.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney praised the Eagles' activism while criticising Mr Trump.

He said in a statement: "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."

Democratic Senator Bob Casey called the event a "political stunt" and extended an invite to the Eagles to visit the US Capitol instead.

Democratic congressman Brendan Boyle criticised Mr Trump for making the championship team visit "all about you".

Former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith, who won the Super Bowl with the team but has since been traded, called it a "cowardly act".

Meanwhile, the president's favourite news channel, Fox News, has apologised after airing what it erroneously presented as pictures of Eagles players kneeling in protest during the national anthem.

Zach Ertz, an Eagles player who appeared in some of the photos, had posted on Twitter: "This can't be serious.

"Praying before games with my teammates, well before the anthem, is being used for your propaganda?!"

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