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Trump cancels Eagles’ White House celebration on eve of visit after fewer than 10 players planned to attend

Team owner Jeffrey Lurie was one of a handful of people from the Eagles set to attend.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was right to accept the invitation to visit President Donald J. Trump at the White House. It doesn't mean all the Eagles players need to attend as well.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was right to accept the invitation to visit President Donald J. Trump at the White House. It doesn't mean all the Eagles players need to attend as well. Read moreSTAFF AND AP FILE

President Trump on Monday abruptly rescinded an invitation to host the Eagles at the White House, citing the "smaller delegation" that was planning to attend and again stoking a national debate by insisting that players "proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart."

The celebration was canceled fewer than 24 hours before the team was scheduled to visit.

>>READ MORE: What you need to know about Trump and the Eagles' White House visit

"The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow," Trump said in a statement released late Monday. "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. The Eagles wanted to send a smaller delegation, but the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better.

"These fans are still invited to the White House to be part of a different type of ceremony — one that will honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem. I will be there at 3:00 p.m. with the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus to celebrate America."

The Eagles were scheduled to be honored by Trump at 3 p.m. on the South Lawn. Fewer than 10 players planned to attend, a team source told the Inquirer and Daily News. Eagles representatives were in Washington on Monday preparing logistics. Owner Jeffrey Lurie planned to make the visit, the source said.

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"It has been incredibly thrilling to celebrate our first Super Bowl championship," the Eagles said in a statement. "Watching the entire Eagles community come together has been an inspiration. We are truly grateful for all of the support we have received and we are looking forward to continuing our preparations for the 2018 season."

Trump took to Twitter late Monday night, confirming the event was canceled because of low attendance while also weighing in on the NFL's change in policy regarding protests during the national anthem.

"Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!" He tweeted, referring to the new requirement that NFL players stand during the anthem or remain off the field prior to NFL games.

>>READ MORE: Analysis | Trump proves once again he's divider-in-chief

Some players, such as safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive end Chris Long, made it clear they would not attend Tuesday's White House ceremony. Quarterback Carson Wentz indicated that he would attend if most of his teammates planned to attend. Others on the team still vacillated when they last met with reporters. Team officials left the decision to the players. The Eagles postponed their scheduled media availability on Monday afternoon.

Mayor Jim Kenney praised the Eagles for how they represented the city in the Super Bowl and their activism off the field and attacked Trump's decision.

"These are players who stand up for the causes they believe in and who contribute in meaningful ways to their community. They represent the diversity of our nation — a nation in which we are free to express our opinions," Kenney said in a statement. "Disinviting them from the White House only proves that our President is not a true patriot, but a fragile egomaniac obsessed with crowd size and afraid of the embarrassment of throwing a party to which no one wants to attend."

Democrats in Congress said they would instead invite the Eagles to the U.S. Capitol.

Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) tweeted: "I'm proud of what the @Eagles accomplished this year. I'm skipping this political stunt at the White House and just invited the Eagles to Congress. @Eagles How about a tour of the Capitol?"

U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D., 13th District), said the visit is "a time-honored tradition" and "not something that was ever political."

"Unfortunately Trump has now ruined this American tradition," Boyle said.

Lou Barletta (R., 11th District), a candidate for U.S. Senate, said on Twitter that he'd be at the White House tomorrow "representing the proud Pennsylvanians who stand for our flag."

The White House visit has been a sensitive topic since the Eagles won the Super Bowl in February, and it wasn't clear they were going to be invited until last month. The Eagles remained coy about the logistics of the trip. The players met to discuss the issue. But it was not known exactly what they planned, and now their invitation has been rescinded.

Wentz said he did not consider the visit to be political. Other players were excited about the historical component of visiting the White House.

>>READ MORE: White House blames Eagles, says players 'abandoned' their fans

Three days after the Eagles won the Super Bowl, Jenkins said he didn't plan to attend.

"I don't want to take away from anybody's experience or make it a big distraction," Jenkins said in February. "It is a celebratory event. I want the guys who choose to go to enjoy that. … Me personally, because it is not a meeting or a sit-down or anything like that, I'm just not interested in the photo op. … Over the last two years, I have been meeting with legislators, both Republican and Democrat, don't matter. If you want to meet to talk about advancing our communities, changing our country, I am all for that. But this isn't one of those meetings."

Jenkins reiterated that he would not go to the White House but was interested in accompanying the team to Washington. But he did not think there would be policy discussion and  "definitely want to avoid being used as any kind of a pawn."

>>READ MORE: Chris Long, Zach Ertz rip Fox News over misleading segment

Torrey Smith, whom the Eagles traded during the offseason, wrote on Twitter that Trump's statement had "so many lies." He acknowledged that "not many" players planned to visit the White House, but he also said "none refused to go simply because Trump 'insists' folks stand for the anthem."

No player on last year's Eagles team took a knee during the national anthem during the regular season and playoffs. Jenkins raised a fist for part of the season to draw attention to social injustices, and particularly the way minorities are treated by law enforcement.

The Eagles were set to be the first team to visit the White House since Trump said at a rally in Alabama in September that when an NFL player "disrespects" the flag, that team's owner should say, "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He's fired. He's fired!" Vice President Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game against the San Francisco 49ers in October after players demonstrated during the anthem.

The NFL instituted a policy last month that required players to stand for the national anthem if they are on the field. The policy received praise from Trump and Pence.

"Guys get upset when you try to tell them what they can and can't do. The same way the entire league got sparked last year when Trump made his comments," Jenkins said last month. "I hope that the focus, even for guys who decide to get involved, isn't about our rights as players to protest. That's not what we're here fighting for. We're fighting for communities."