Trump keeps up blitz on NFL players, plans ‘Celebration of America’

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The spat between U.S. President Donald Trump and members of the Philadelphia Eagles spilled into a second day on Tuesday with Trump planning a “Celebration of America” after most of the Super Bowl-winning team passed up a White House invitation.

Trump has feuded with National Football League players over the past year, blasting on-field protests in which players sat or kneeled during the national anthem to protest accusations of excessive use of force against black people by U.S. police.

None of the Eagles players knelt during the playing of the anthem during the football season, but Trump still brought up the anthem protests when he canceled the team’s invitation on Monday after many players said they would not attend the celebration.

The White House on Tuesday said it had canceled the long established capital tradition after the Eagles said just a handful of people would attend the event, fewer than the 81 initially proposed.

At least two members of the champion team and the NFL players’ union pushed back, saying that the event should have gone forward if any Eagles planned to attend.

“Our union is disappointed in the decision by the White House to disinvite players from the Philadelphia Eagles from being recognized and celebrated by all Americans,” the NFL Players Association said in a statement. “NFL players love their country.”

Some Eagles players took to Twitter to criticize Trump’s decision.

“It’s a cowardly act to cancel the celebration because the majority of the people don’t want to see you,” Torrey Smith, a member of the Super Bowl-winning Eagles team who has since been traded to the Carolina Panthers, said on Twitter on Monday.

Smith also said: “No one refused to go simply because Trump ‘insists’ folks stand for the anthem.”

“There are a lot of people on the team that have plenty of different views. The men and women that wanted to go should’ve been able to go,” Smith, a wide receiver, said.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds his hand over his heart and sings the U.S. National Anthem along with members of the U.S. military at the “celebration of America” event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Tight end Zach Ertz on Tuesday criticized Fox News after the network illustrated a news segment about Trump’s decision with footage of Philadelphia Eagles players kneeling in prayer during a news segment, creating the misleading impression that they were protesting.

“This can’t be serious … Praying before games with my teammates, well before the anthem, is being used for your propaganda?” Ertz wrote on Twitter. “Just sad, I feel like you guys should have to be better than this.”

The network removed the segment online and officials apologized for using the footage, Christopher Wallace, Executive Producer of “Fox News @ Night” said in a statement.

No Eagles player knelt or sat during the national anthem during the 2017 regular season, according to report by Sports Pundit, which tracked protests among the 32 NFL teams.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the White House had tried to avoid canceling the event, which the Secret Service had cleared hundreds of Eagles fans to attend.

“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,” she said.

But then the Eagles said only a “tiny handful” of representatives would show up and that the great majority of players would not attend, Sanders said.

“The vast majority of the Eagles team decided to abandon their fans,” she added.

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Eagles representatives could not be reached for immediate comment. Pennsylvania officials including Philadelphia’s Democratic mayor and members of the state’s congressional delegation invited the team to alternative events.

The replacement 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) event on the South Lawn of the White House will feature music from the United States Marine Band, Trump tweeted.

Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio

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