White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday accused the Philadelphia Eagles of pulling a “political stunt” by opting in large numbers not to attend a celebration of their Super Bowl victory at the White House, even though it was President Donald Trump who rescinded the team’s invitation.
“There were 80 members of the Eagles organization that RSVP’d and committed to attend this event as recently as Friday,” she told reporters at a press briefing Tuesday. She didn’t specify how many in that group were players, rather than coaches, management and support staff.
Gone was one of Trump’s stated reasons for rescinding the Eagles’ invite: That “[t]hey 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.”
Perhaps that’s because it wasn’t true: No Eagles players knelt during the national anthem this past season.
“The Eagles are the ones that tried to change their commitment at the 11th hour and the President frankly thinks that the fans deserve better than that and, therefore, we changed the ceremony to be a focus on celebrating our great country,” Sanders added.
She said later: “If this wasn’t a political stunt by the Eagles franchise, then they wouldn’t have planned to attend the event and then backed out at the last minute. And if it wasn’t a political stunt, then they wouldn’t have attempted to reschedule the visit when they knew that the President was going to be overseas. And if this wasn’t a political stunt, then they wouldn’t have waited until Monday, well after a thousand of their fans had traveled and taken time out of their schedules, to offer only a tiny handful of representatives to attend the event.”
It’s not clear when certain Eagles players (as well as coaches, management and support staff) decided not to attend the White House event. Multiple players said publicly months ago that they wouldn’t attend. And at least two players disputed that players waited until the last minute to bail on the visit.
“No one refused to go simply because Trump ‘insists’ folks stand for the anthem,” said former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith on Monday, seemingly referring to the NFL’s May 23 announcement that NFL franchises would be fined if players kneeled during the anthem.
“Most players (and there were many players, many players…) that wanted to opt out had decided long b4 the anthem rule came down,” Eagle Chris Long said Tuesday.
“Are you saying the President bears zero responsibility in this cancellation?” one reporter asked Sanders later on Tuesday. “This is a President who called NFL players ‘SOBs,’ who implied that some players that don’t stand for the national anthem do not belong in this country.”
In short, no: “They made that change at the last minute, not the President. He’s the one that has been completely consistent in his viewpoint when it comes to this,” Sanders said.
Except that’s not true: Trump cancelled the gathering.