WASHINGTON – White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that the Eagles pulled a “political stunt” shortly before the ceremony that was scheduled to take place on Tuesday at the White House to honor the Super Bowl champions.
The White House released a statement from President Trump on Monday that read, in part, that the Eagles are “unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow,” stating “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.”
A White House correspondent pointed out to Sanders on Tuesday that no Eagles players took a knee in protest during the national anthem in the last regular season.
“The president’s position on not just the anthem has been clear, but let’s not forget there were 80 members of the Eagles organization that RSVP’d and committed to attend this event as recently as Friday, as well as over a thousand fans of the Eagles organization, and the Eagles are the ones that tried to change their commitment at the eleventh hour. And the president, frankly, thinks that the fans deserve better than that and, therefore, we changed the ceremony to be a focus on celebrating our great country,” Sanders said at the White House press briefing on Tuesday.
“The president thinks that people should stand for the national anthem. Particularly when it comes to the NFL, it’s not about a particular team. It’s about having pride in our country and about being respectful to the men and women who have fought and died to preserve our country,” she added.
Sanders said the “Eagles franchise” had “backed out” of the planned Tuesday ceremony and attempted to reschedule.
“Look, 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. And if it wasn’t a political stunt, then they wouldn’t have attempted to reschedule the visit when they knew that the president was going to be overseas,” she said.
“And if this wasn’t a political stunt, they wouldn’t have waited until Monday, well after a thousand of their fans had traveled and taken time out of their schedules to offer only a tiny handful of representatives to attend the event,” she added.
Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson brushed off Sanders’ charges at a news conference today. “I’m not discussing it. It’s over. What you’ve seen and what you’ve heard is enough,” he said.
In his speech at the substitute event with the United States Marine Corps Band and the United States Army Chorus, Trump said, “I want to take this opportunity to explain why young Americans stand for our national anthem. Maybe it’s about time that we understood. We stand to honor our military and to honor our country, and to remember the fallen heroes who never made it back home. We stand to show our love for our fellow citizens and our magnificent Constitution. We stand to pay tribute to the incredible Americans who came before us and the heroic sacrifices they made. America is a great nation — a community, a family.”
During the event, a man in the audience called out, “Stop hiding behind the armed services and the national anthem.”
Following the speech, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence did not answer questions from the reporters in attendance.
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins reacted to Trump’s initial statement announcing the cancellation.
“Simply Google: ‘How many Philadelphia Eagles knelt during the national anthem last season?’ and you will find the answer is zero,” Jenkins said in a statement that he posted Tuesday afternoon on Twitter. “A similar Google search will show you how many great things the players on this team are doing and continue to do on a daily basis.”
Jenkins continued, “Instead the decision was made to lie, and paint the picture that these players are anti-America, anti-flag and anti-military.”
In a Twitter post reacting to Trump’s Monday statement, Torrey Smith, who played for the Eagles last season, wrote, “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.”
The White House said it was expecting about 1,000 guests at the Eagles ceremony. It has not released an official count of the guests that attended the substitute event. Reporters covering the event indicated that many White House staffers were there after a morning email urged attendance, but they couldn’t find many Eagles fans.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, told reporters he loves the Eagles and explained why he attended the substitute ceremony.
“Standing for America is important and I’ve fought for flags. Flags mean a lot to me. I love fighting for my country and I fought every day,” Zinke said at the event. “Defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.”