President Donald Trump warned NFL players on Tuesday about “escaping” to locker rooms during the playing of the National Anthem after he rescinded an invitation for the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles to visit the White House.
“We will proudly be playing the National Anthem and other wonderful music celebrating our Country today at 3 P.M., The White House, with the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus. Honoring America!” Trump posted on Twitter.
He added, “NFL, no escaping to Locker Rooms!,” a reference to a new NFL policy giving players the option of remaining off the field during the playing of the anthem if they choose not to stand for it. Last month, the NFL announced teams could choose to require athletes in their arenas to stand during the playing of the anthem or face fines.
Trump announced Monday he would be canceling the Eagles’ visit over the controversy about standing for the National Anthem at NFL games, and instead hosting a “Celebration of America” event. In a follow-up tweet on Tuesday, Trump touted other championship teams that had visited the White House during his presidency.
The decision to cancel the Eagles’ visit over the protests — which were spurred by black athletes over what they believe is systemic abuse by police against people of color — threatens to reignite a long-simmering, racially-tinged controversy.
Players on the Eagles are some of the most outspoken social justice activists in the NFL, and multiple players took part in the protests during the anthem over the last two seasons. Many players from the team were not planning on attending the ceremony as a protest of Trump, his policies and his outspoken criticism of players who chose to kneel during the anthem.
An NFL source said none of the players on the Eagles team that won the Super Bowl took a knee during the anthem during the regular season — one player took a knee in the preseason but was cut before the regular season began. Safety Malcolm Jenkins raised his fist during the anthem to protest racial injustice before some games, but he stopped when the NFL pledged to make a $100 million donation to various charities in November.
The decision to disinvite the Eagles from the celebration was made abruptly Monday, a White House official tells CNN, after the team informed the administration that very few players would be attending. The final number is unclear, this official said, but staffers were told that only between four and 10 players were coming, in addition to a handful of coaches and athletic trainers.
This infuriated Trump, who then decided to cancel the ceremony and hold one honoring the national anthem instead. He was well aware of what the optics would be if he posed with less than a dozen players.
Aides went back and forth for several hours drafting a statement, which in the end raised many questions because of the confusing tense. Though it was attributed to Trump, it varied between first- and third-person throughout.
Several staffers had been involved in planning the celebration, including White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.
It is still unclear what the patriotic celebration will look like Tuesday afternoon, even to White House officials, but Trump was insistent on holding an event. It could very well likely end up being just dozens of staffers, a source noted.