Trump drops Philadelphia Eagles White House invite over anthem protest

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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

US President Donald Trump has cancelled a White House visit by the Philadelphia Eagles football team over a protest by some players over the national anthem.

The Super Bowl champions were due to send a “smaller delegation” after some players pulled out but Mr Trump said fans “deserved better”.

Instead, the event will feature the US Marine Band and the US Army Chorus.

The National Football League (NFL) last month voted to require players to stand for the national anthem.

The president has repeatedly criticised the NFL for some of its players kneeling during the anthem to protest against police brutality.

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 honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country.”

He added the team had planned to send a smaller delegation but the “1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better”.

“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.”

The president said he still planned to attend the event, which will feature the military band and chorus, at 15:00 local time (19:00 GMT).

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

Eagles players Chris Long and Malcolm Jenkins were among those who did not plan to attend the ceremony.

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.

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.

What’s the reaction?

Pennsylvania lawmakers were quick to respond to Mr Trump’s statement. Democratic Senator Bob Casey called the event a “political stunt” and extended an invite to the Eagles to instead visit the US Capitol.

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”.

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