WASHINGTON - A second statement released by the White House and media coverage of the war of words with the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles propelled the feud into another round through the news cycle Tuesday.
Phillly.com reported fewer than 10 players planned to attend the ceremony at the White House, which was canceled by President Donald Trump in a critical statement Monday night. ESPN reported only five players committed to attending the ceremony.
The White House went a step further Tuesday, saying Eagles players “abandoned their fans” with more than 1,000 fans cleared to attend the event.
Eagles defensive end Chris Long called Fox News complicit in playing America for use of images of Philadelphia players kneeling in prayer before games — and never during the national anthem — last season as the network’s backdrop for the story of the Super Bowl champions’ rescinded invitation.
Long and tight end Zach Ertz used social media to challenge Fox News for its use Tuesday morning of footage of Eagles players praying before games during a segment about protests during the national anthem.
“This can’t be serious,” Ertz wrote on Twitter. “Praying before games with my teammates, well before the anthem, is being used for your propaganda?! Just sad, I feel like you guys should have to be better than this …”
Long added roughly an hour later: “Imagine wanting to please the boss so very badly that you run stills of guys knelt down PRAYING during pregame,” Long wrote. “Not one Eagles player knelt for the anthem this yr. Keep carrying his water to sow division while misrepresenting Christian men. Aren’t many of your viewers.. nevermind.
“You’re complicit in PLAYING America. This is just another day at the office for you, though. Most players (and there were many players, many players…) that wanted to opt out had decided long b4 the anthem rule came down. It wasn’t discussed once in our meetings about the visit.”
A delegation was supposed to be in Washington on Tuesday, but President Donald Trump publicly rescinded the invitation Monday night, claiming the team didn’t show proper respect for the country during the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” last season.
No Eagles players took a knee during the national anthem last season.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday that Trump viewed the move as a political stunt.
“The Eagles are the ones who tried to changed their commitment at the eleventh hour,” Sanders said. “If this wasn’t a political stunt by the Eagles franchise, then they wouldn’t have planned to attend the event and then backed out at the last minute.”
A statement from the president released on Monday reads, in full:
“The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow. 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. The Eagles wanted 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 honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem. I will be there at 3:00 p.m. with the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus to celebrate America.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney did not hold back his opinion on the matter, calling Trump “a fragile egomaniac obsessed with crowd size and afraid of the embarrassment of throwing a party to which no one wants to attend.”
The NFL Players Association, which is based in Washington, released a statement backing the Eagles.
“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 for their accomplishment. This decision by the White House has led to the cancellation of several player-led community service events for young people in the Washington, DC area.
“NFL players love their country, support our troops, give back to their communities and strive to make America a better place.”
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson confirmed in May that the team would accept an invitation to attend the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl LII championship, adding that it would be up to each player whether to attend. With the invitation pulled Monday, the Eagles returned to plans to hold practice on Tuesday. Players are not available, but are scheduled for media access on Wednesday.
“It’s one of those things that, again, we’re working through a ton of things, but at the same time we understand that it’s an individual decision,” Pederson said at the time.
Several members of the championship Eagles squad, including Long, safety Malcolm Jenkins and wide receiver Torrey Smith — now with the Carolina Panthers — have been vocal about their plans not to attend any White House visit due to their opposition of Trump and his policies. Jenkins told reporters in May that he would travel to Washington with his teammates but not visit the White House.
After the White House announcement Monday, Smith tweeted, “So many lies smh Here are some facts 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”
Late Monday night, the Eagles issued a statement that read, “It has been incredibly thrilling to celebrate our first Super Bowl Championship. Watching the entire Eagles community come together has been an inspiration. We are truly grateful for all of the support we have received and we are looking forward to continuing our preparations for the 2018 season.”
Quarterback Carson Wentz said last month he planned to be at the White House, emphasizing the recognition of the Eagles’ championship achievement rather than any political aspect of the team visit.