President Donald Trump on Tuesday held a “Celebration of America” ceremony at the White House in lieu of hosting the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, a day after rescinding an invite to the team because so few members committed to attending.
The president uninvited the team in a Monday tweet while simultaneously slamming the NFL’s new policy regarding the national anthem, which requires players on field to stand for the anthem but allows them to stay in the locker room if desired, though the team would be subjected to a fine if they do.
“The Philadelphia Eagles Football Team was invited to the White House. Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event,” he tweeted. “Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!”
Trump instead held a brief ceremony Tuesday on the South Lawn of the White House, featuring the U.S. Marine Band and ending with a rendition of “God Bless America,” joined by the audience. However, at least two people in attendance reportedly took a knee during the national anthem.
The issue began in August 2016 when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting during the anthem in protest of racial injustice in the U.S., setting off a national firestorm.
Trump reignited the controversy in September during a rally, infuriating many NFL players and polarizing fans when he commented that any “son of a b—-” who kneeled during the anthem should be fired.
The following Sunday, more than 200 players league-wide either knelt or locked arms in solidarity during the anthem in response. Though several Eagles locked arms that week — including Black safety Malcolm Jenkins, who routinely raised a fist during the playing the anthem — no member of the championship team had before or since knelt for the anthem.