The Slatest

Trump Is Pursuing a National Anthem–Kneeling Feud With a Team Whose Players Didn’t Kneel During the National Anthem

Five Eagles players stand on the sideline facing toward the camera.
Philadelphia Eagles players standing during the national anthem at the Super Bowl on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis. Elsa/Getty Images

President A Big Baby announced abruptly on Monday night that he’d disinvited the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles from a planned Tuesday White House celebration on the grounds that they “disagree with their president because he insists that they proudly stand for their National Anthem, hand on heart.”

The casual reader might assume from such language that some members of the Eagles team that won the title had, like other NFL players, knelt during the playing of the national anthem last season to protest police brutality. But it turns out this is not the case: In fact, as a February article in the conservative Washington Times noted, the Eagles were one of only seven NFL teams that didn’t have any players kneel during the anthem over the course of the 2017–18 schedule. One image of a kneeling Eagles player that’s circulated online since Trump made his announcement is of a cornerback who wasn’t on the team last year; Fox News’ report on the issue featured photos of kneeling Eagles that turned out to have been taken while they were praying, not while the anthem was playing. (Some black Eagles players did raise their fists during the anthem last year as a gesture of solidarity, but they remained standing while doing so.)

A more likely explanation for the cancellation is that Trump learned that almost no one was going to show up. (Several Eagles players have been critical of Trump in the past, and other athletes have skipped White House appearances for nonpolitical reasons.) This is from a well-connected ESPN reporter:

A recent Wall Street Journal report revealed that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said that Trump told him that the anthem is “a very winning, strong issue” that he will always pursue because the general public supports his position on it. What we’ll see now is if that remains true even when the kneeling players on the other side of the debate exist only in Trump’s mind.