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Small number of Eagles players could have spurred Trump’s cancellation of visit

By waiting until the day before the event to cancel, the president drew maximum attention to an issue that he considers a big-time winner for him

We should have expected President Donald Trump to cancel the show, which was clearly shaping up as a potential all-time flop.

As word emerged Monday that the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles would send an unusually small contingent — two league sources said the team’s traveling party would likely include fewer than 10 players, and possibly none who are African-American — to be honored at a scheduled White House event Tuesday, Trump rescinded the invitation without notifying the Eagles and then continued to stoke divisiveness over protests during the national anthem. In a statement, the White House — and there’s no other way to put this — outright lied about Philadelphia’s position, writing that the Eagles 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.”

On Twitter, former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith pushed back hard against the fiction promulgated by the nation’s leader.

“So many lies. … 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,” wrote Smith, who in February said he would skip a White House visit and in March was traded to the Carolina Panthers.

“There are a lot of people on the team that have plenty of different views,” Smith continued in a subsequent tweet. “The men and women that wanted to go should’ve been able to go. It’s a cowardly act to cancel the celebration because the majority of the people don’t want to see you. To make it about the anthem is foolish.”

For the record, no member of Philadelphia’s roster last season kneeled during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as many players did across the NFL to raise awareness about racial inequalities and police brutality. The Eagles also were the NFL’s most socially conscious team, winning the Super Bowl while championing causes of the disadvantaged. With that backdrop, it’s not surprising that many in Philadelphia’s organization, including most of the team’s high-profile players, would decline an invitation to a party thrown by someone who has attacked them repeatedly in speeches and tweetstorms for demonstrating peacefully to help others.

In February, the entire Golden State Warriors organization passed on spending time with Trump. In lieu of visiting the White House after winning last season’s NBA championship, the team toured the National Museum of African American History and Culture with local students.

The NFL’s previous champion did meet with Trump. In April 2017, the New England Patriots came to the White House, although several members of the five-time Super Bowl winner boycotted the trip. The Patriots’ traveling party consisted of only 34 players. Under NFL collective bargaining rules, players are not required to attend championship ceremonies at the White House.

In an interview with The Undefeated late last week, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins foreshadowed the collision that occurred Monday.

“The whole thing behind my decision not to go to the White House is that time and time again we keep hearing, especially from this administration, the rhetoric about players and the anthem protests … and it has all been negative,” Jenkins said. “Calling us sons of b—— and talking about we should leave the country, yet not one time has this administration acknowledged the amount of work that players have been doing to engage and improve their communities. Not once. … They’re not talking about the fact that guys are out here getting people [registered] to vote. They’re not talking about the countless hours that guys are giving of their own time to really try to help people. They’re not talking about the millions of dollars that guys give away to really improve their communities and their country. That stuff never gets any acknowledgment.

Even after NFL owners recently capitulated to Trump by replacing their previous anthem policy that enabled players to protest with a nonsensical new one that permits players to remain in the locker room while the song is performed, Trump has continued to go in on the league’s workforce, which is almost 70 percent black, saying that players should “stand proudly” or “maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”

Setting aside the stunning inappropriateness of the president spitballing on whether citizens should be deported for actions that are protected by the U.S. Constitution, Trump reaffirmed he’ll use the NFL as his foil to gin up excitement in his base whenever it suits him. He doubled down on his attacks on players late Monday night, tweeting in part that “staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!”

Considering that the Eagles for some time had been mulling how to handle the White House invitation (under one proposal, the entire team would have traveled to the capital but most players would have done community service or visited a school) and key players such as Smith, Jenkins and defensive end Chris Long had said to count them out, it seems highly unlikely the expected low turnout caught the White House by surprise. But by waiting until the day before the event to cancel, Trump drew maximum attention to an issue that he considers a big-time winner for him.

Trump pressured owners to change the anthem policy, depositions revealed, and all indications are he’ll continue to use them as piñatas because, well, they handed him the stick.

Although the NFL regular-season kickoff is more than three months away, the president already is in midseason form, attacking players and alarming owners. For him, it couldn’t be working out better.

It’s always the same story with bullies. Once you give in, they just want more. And that’s true no matter where they live.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.