President Donald Trump effectively disinvited the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles from the team’s scheduled visit to the White House, upending a tradition and furthering his feud with the country’s most popular sports league.
Mr. Trump announced the unusual move in a statement Monday evening, saying the players “disagree with their president” over his insistence that they should be forced to stand for the national anthem. The White House celebration was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
“The Eagles wanted to send a smaller delegation, but the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better,” Mr. Trump said, suggesting that he disinvited the football team.
Several Philadelphia players had already said they wouldn’t attend the ceremony after a year in which Mr. Trump assailed the National Football League for player protests during the national anthem that meant to draw attention to social injustice.
The Eagles and the NFL didn’t respond immediately to requests for comment.
The player protests were a political lightning rod for the NFL for two seasons, and this off-season the NFL’s owners changed its rules to mandate that players on the field for the national anthem must stand for it. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the NFL’s view on the issue shifted directly in response to Mr. Trump’s repeated attacks.
Many Eagles players were at the forefront of the players’ activism movement and outspoken in their criticisms of the president. Wide receiver Torrey Smith, who was on the Eagles last season, wrote on Twitter late Monday that “the President continues to spread the false narrative that players are anti military.”
Championship teams from professional sports leagues and collegiate sports are regularly invited to the White House as a reward for their accomplishment. But that has become more unpredictable in the Trump era.
Last year, Mr. Trump tweeted that he was withdrawing his invitation to the Golden State Warriors after they won the NBA championship, because of comments he perceived as critical from Stephen Curry, the team’s star player. The team instead spent a day with local children at an African-American history museum.
Several members of the New England Patriots, the previous Super Bowl winner, skipped the team’s visit to the White House last year.
Also recently, some players for the Houston Astros missed their trip to the White House. And some members of Team USA from the recent Winter Olympics didn’t attend, with many citing political reasons as why.
While athletes’ explanations for declining a White House visit have varied, Mr. Trump said he made his decision because the Eagles disagreed with his insistence that players “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.”
Several players knelt during pregame anthem performances last year to protest police violence and discrimination against minorities. The president had exhorted the league to discipline players who don’t stand for the anthem.
Last month, Mr. Trump in a Fox News interview said National Football League players who don’t want to stand for the national anthem perhaps “shouldn’t be in the country,” and spoke approvingly of a new league rule aimed at curbing protests on the field.
The player protests first rose to national prominence in 2016 after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during pregame anthems, saying he wanted to draw attention to racial inequality and social injustice. Mr. Kaepernick has gone unsigned since the conclusion of that season and has filed a grievance against the league and all 32 teams, alleging that they have colluded to keep him unsigned because of his outspoken political views.
The protests continued into 2017 but were largely muted at the beginning of the season. Then, at a September stump speech in Alabama, Mr. Trump lambasted the players and the league for the demonstrations, which he called unpatriotic, at one point suggesting owners “get that son of a bitch off the field now.” In response to his remarks, players—and even some owners—knelt en masse in a direct rebuke of Mr. Trump. Later, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of a game when players knelt during the anthem.
The topic was a divisive issue for a league battling sagging ratings, which some people, at least in part, attributed to the anthem protests. The NFL hoped its recent rule change, which requires players on the field to stand for the anthem but also allows them to stay in the locker room, would put the issue to bed.
Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) wrote on Twitter Monday night that he was “proud” of what the Eagles had accomplished and that he would skip the “political stunt” at the White House. “How about a tour of the Capitol?” he wrote.
Write to Andrew Beaton at firstname.lastname@example.org and Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com
Appeared in the June 5, 2018, print edition as ‘President Disinvites Philadelphia Eagles.’