As you can see from the photo above, the annual White House visits of championship professional and collegiate sports teams has been a light-hearted gathering where the nation’s chief executive, regardless of party and sports allegiance, pays tribute to the excellence of champions.
The championship groups gift him with a No. 45 team jersey or, in this case, a racing helmet like the one worn by reigning NASCAR champion Martin Truex Jr. (leaning in front) during his dominating 2017 racing season. And team members jostle for selfies with the president.
NASCAR has no kneeling problem. It flaunts the flag and patriotism at every race with drivers and their families standing together outside the cars for the anthem and prayer before harnessing themselves in. Ten days ago for a 600-mile contest at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR handed out more than 5,000 free race tickets to military and invited troops into garages to talk shop.
But a convivial championship ceremony will not be happening today with the NFL’s Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles at Donald Trump’s White House.
Faced Monday evening with a boycott by a significant number of team members and employees, who object to Trump objections to their National Anthem protests, Trump disinvited everyone.
The president then scheduled an alternate mid-afternoon “Celebration of America” on the residence grounds for the 1,000 or so fans who were to witness the team visit. Such protests of a sitting president are not unprecedented but previously were confined to a few players.
Here’s the president’s full statement:
The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow. 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.
UPDATE: Later, the White House elaborated on the canceled event’s timeline.
Led by a benched quarterback, protesting players, all of them multi-millionaires, claim the emotional controversy over refusing to stand for the National Anthem was intended to call attention to racial injustice.
However, millions of loyal, non-millionaire football fans, many of them now former fans, took the kneeling and sitting as signs of disrespect for the flag, the anthem and the nation’s serving military. And they objected to the intrusion of politics by privileged athletes onto the playing fields of what had been their favored entertainment.
The league’s TV ratings plummeted nine percent last season. Ticket and merchandise sales suffered. And Trump, who once owned his own pro football team, criticized the players and league, which happens to match the sentiments of much of his political base.
Last month the league announced a new policy requiring all players on the field to stand for the pre-game anthem, but did not require all players be on the field for the anthem.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league would fine teams whose players defy the rule. Some owners, all of whom approved the new rule, said they’d pay the fines without disciplining offending players.
This afternoon watch for Democrats on Capitol Hill to invite some Eagles over for a protest of Trump. Given the unexpected endurance of this fight, even more NFL fans may be disinviting the NFL into their homes come fall.