Less than 24 hours before he was to host the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles at the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump disinvited the Super Bowl champions.
“The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to celebrate tomorrow,” Trump said in a statement released Monday evening. “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.”
He said the team wanted to send a smaller delegation, but “the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better.”
Instead, Trump said the fans were still welcome and that he would host “a different type of ceremony,” one that would “honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem.”
Trump has been at odds with NFL players who knelt during the playing of the American national anthem before their games in a protest of police brutality and racial inequality.
Trump has repeatedly denounced the players as unpatriotic and demanded an end to such protests.
It remains unclear exactly what prompted the change of plans. Neither the White House nor the Eagles commented on the turn of events.
But Eagles’ wide receiver Torrey Smith, who had said he would not visit the White House, took to Twitter in response.
“So many lies,” he wrote, adding “Not many people were going to go'”
He also said, “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: “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.”
This is not the first time Trump has clashed with professional athletes.
Last year, the National Basketball Association champions, the Golden State Warriors, did not visit the White House after the president took issue when team star Stephen Curry said he would not attend.