Current and former NFL players hit back at President Donald Trump on Tuesday, calling him “cowardly” and asking when he will be impeached, after he abruptly disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles from a White House event.
The Trump administration released a statement Monday night that implied the players were not welcome at the White House celebration of the Super Bowl champion team planned for Tuesday. Trump, in a tweet late Monday night, reiterated the decision, citing athletes’ protests during the national anthem and the small number of Eagles players who planned to attend as reasons for the last-minute cancellation.
Wide receiver Torrey Smith, who played for the Eagles last season, spoke out against the president in a series of tweets, saying the issue was never about standing for the national anthem.
Eagles players were not among the NFL athletes who took a knee or remained in the locker room during the 2017 regular season while the national anthem was played, according to ESPN.
“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,” he tweeted.
Smith had previously said that he would not be attending the event at Trump’s White House. In a statement shared Monday night by Dave Zirin of The Nation, Smith explained that his decision was because of Trump’s record of disrespect toward women, minority groups and Smith’s peers.
Malcolm Jenkins, safety for the Eagles, released a statement on Tuesday that defended him and his teammates against what he described as a smear attack by those who question their patriotism.
Jenkins, in addition to mentioning that Eagles defensive end Chris Long donated his entire salary last year to charity, shared a list of charitable acts he and his fellow teammates have accomplished.
“No one elected us to do this. We do it because we love this country and our communities. Everyone, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, deserves to be treated equally. We are fighting for racial and social equality,” he said.
Instead of his teammates being recognized for their good work, Jenkins said, “the decision was made to lie, and paint the picture that these players are anti-America, anti-flag and anti-military.”
The NFL Players Association also said it is “disappointed” by Trump’s decision.
“NFL players love their country, support our troops, give back to their communities and strive to make America a better place,” it said in a statement.
Tight end Zach Ertz and Long spoke out against Fox News’ coverage of the president’s announcement after the network showed photos of Eagles players kneeling ― but doing so in prayer, not during the national anthem. Fox News later apologized, admitting its coverage included “unrelated footage.”
Ertz slammed the network for using athletes’ prayer as “propaganda.” Long called it a “please the boss” effort that misrepresented Christian men.
Long also shared a point similar to Smith’s in which he said “most players” who wanted to skip the White House visit had made their decision before the NFL made it mandatory for players to stand during the anthem.
Former Eagles wide receiver Cris Carter suggested in light of Trump’s decision that former President Barack Obama “should invite the Eagles to his house for a barbecue” instead. That idea drew more than 100,000 likes.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney also spoke out about the president’s cancellation, saying it “only proves that our President is not a true patriot.”
“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,” he 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.”
Other football players, both current and retired, also joined in with responses to Trump’s decision. Joshua Norman, cornerback for the Washington NFL team, tweeted: “Why is this impeachment taking so Damn Long.”