Of all the events that were almost unimaginable before Donald Trump took office, the disinvitation of the the Philadelphia Eagles to the White House less than 24 hours before their scheduled visit has to rank high.
Traditionally, NFL games feature paroxysms of patriotism—the fading contrails of fighter jets; American flags the size of small nation-states—and the White House visit of the Super Bowl champions has been an easy photo opp for all involved. But that was then.
“The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow,” Trump’s statement read. “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.”
As it happens, none of the Eagles players were among those who kneeled during the anthem last year. “So many lies,” former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted, continuing, “1. Not many people were going to go 2. No one refused to go simply because Trump ‘insists’ folks stand for the anthem 3. The President continues to spread the false narrative that players are anti military.”
Several Eagles have been outspoken social-justice activists and vocal opponents of Trump—including Malcolm Jenkins, who told me earlier this year that Trump was just “like any other troll”—and Trump was right about one thing: A “smaller delegation” really was planning to attend the event. According to Politico, 81 members of the Eagles had submitted their names for security clearance, but all but a handful were backing out. “It’s a cowardly act to cancel the celebration because the majority of the people don’t want to see you,” Smith tweeted. “To make it about the anthem is foolish.”