US & Canada

Trump drops Eagles ceremony for 'Celebration of America'

People gather for the celebration of America event at the White House Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Trump hosted the "celebration of America" event at the White House instead of hosting the Philadelphia Eagles

US President Donald Trump has traded the traditional ceremony honouring this year's Super Bowl champions for a "celebration of the American flag".

Mr Trump cancelled the visit after most of the winning Philadelphia Eagles team did not want to attend.

He blamed the the snub on players protesting the national anthem, but team members have not confirmed this is why they boycotted the event.

Mr Trump did not mention the Eagles fans during his short speech.

"We love our country. We respect our flag. We always proudly stand for the national anthem," the president said on Tuesday.

"America is a great nation, a community, a family. And America's our home and we love our home, and our country has never done better than it's doing right now. Never!"

Early in the ceremony, a heckler began yelling questions at the president before being escorted out of the event, calling for him to "stop hiding" behind the national anthem.

Reporters heard people booing, though it was unclear if it was for the heckler.

During the national anthem, a man in the audience was seen taking a knee. He left immediately after.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the Eagles players "decided to abandon their fans" by not sending the full team.

"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 DC today," she said in a statement.

"In other words, the vast majority of the Eagles team decided to abandon their fans."

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

How did the row begin?

The president announced in a statement on Monday that the Eagles would not be visiting the White House for the planned ceremony.

"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," the statement said.

Mr Trump said fans were still invited to the White House for "a different type of ceremony", paying tribute to "the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem".

Mrs Sanders on Tuesday told reporters the Eagles had requested to reschedule the original event, but that the president would have been overseas for the dates they proposed.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.


A Trump-ian garden party

Analysis by Tara McKelvey, BBC White House reporter

The guests came from Philadelphia, Albuquerque and other cities, and they waved small flags and laughed at the president's jokes.

The men were dressed in dark suits, and the women wore sleeveless dresses - as if they were at a fancy garden party.

He'd disinvited some of the guests beforehand - and made it clear that he wanted those who were still invited to come and have a good time.

As one of the visitors, Nazir Alston, a 19-year-old filmmaker from Philadelphia pointed out, the circumstances - and the party itself - were "definitely weird".

It's the Trump White House, though, a place full of surprises, and today was no exception.


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".

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