The league tried to cut the President out with its new policy on the anthem. If Monday is any indication, it didn't work
NFL owners were reportedly motivated by fear of incendiary comments from Donald Trump when devising the league’s new anthem policy. And that hand-wringing over Trump was further validated on Monday, when the President canceled the Eagles’ White House visit less than 24 hours before the scheduled ceremony to celebrate the Super Bowl LII champions. Clearly, the President is not done using the NFL and the anthem issue to serve his own political agenda.
Many Eagles players, including safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive end Chris Long, said they wouldn’t be attending the White House because they don’t agree with Trump’s politics, not because the president insists that NFL players must stand for the anthem or “maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.” For the players, not attending Trump’s White House ceremony has never been about the anthem issue. It’s about disagreeing with Trump’s views on policing, criminal justice, and racial inequality.
Trump’s ego might have been bruised by the report that fewer than 10 Eagles players would be attending, so rather than host a sparsely attended ceremony he uninvited the whole organization. Quarterback Carson Wentz said recently that he would attend if the team as a whole decided they would go.
The Eagles would have been far from the first champions to arrive at the White House with less-than-perfect attendance. Players from various teams across various sports have skipped White House visits for presidents from both parties. In 1984, Larry Bird turned down a Celtics championship visit with President Reagan for unspecified reasons, and remarked in a radio interview, “If the President wants to see me, he knows where to find me.” Last year, only 34 Patriots attended Trump’s ceremony with notable absences from Tom Brady (personal reasons) to Chris Long, Devin McCourty and Martellus Bennett (political reasons). The Astros were honored at the White House in March, but star players Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran were absent. The Golden State Warriors decided to reject the invitation to the White House in November after Trump tweeted to un-invite Warriors star Steph Curry because Curry had hesitated to accept the invite. Trump’s vitriol could also be partly motivated by revenge against Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, who has spoken out against Trump. In tapes leaked from a league meeting to the New York Times, Lurie called Trump’s regime, “one disastrous presidency.”
A White House statement said that while Eagles players are no longer welcome today, Eagles fans are still invited to the White House for “a different type of ceremony, one that will honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem.” Some of those fans will surely feel like they’re making a decision: Support the players who won the city’s first Super Bowl title by skipping the ceremony, or show up and give tacit approval to the President’s decision to un-invite those players? No Eagles players kneeled during the anthem before regular season or postseason games last season. Trump’s anthem-focused statement reveals that he is ignoring that fact, trying to twist the players’ dislike of his politics into an anti-American sentiment.
In drafting its anthem policy, NFL owners ignored the players in order to placate Trump. It clearly didn’t work. And from now on, professional sports teams should think twice before accepting an invitation to the White House while Trump is President. It’s yet another benign event that has become politically charged.
NOW ON THE MMQB: Albert Breer previews the four teams opening mini-camp this week … On The MMQB: 10 Things Podcast, Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling rank the league’s top 10 safeties.
1. Former 49ers great Dwight Clark died Monday at age 61 after battling ALS. SI’s Chris Ballard was there at Eddie DeBartolo’s ranch while 49ers teammates spent one last weekend with their beloved teammate.
2. In a rare move by an NFL team to show a player he’s more than just a replaceable cog, Chicago re-signed tight end Zach Miller to a one-year deal. Miller’s football career is likely over after a gruesome knee injury, but he'll make money in 2018 even if he can't return to the field.
3. More light shed on Cassius Marsh’s viral comments about his Patriots tenure.
4. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Andrew Luck will play in the season opener, “We will see him. I really don't have a doubt."
5. Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly inadvertently announced that he will receive the Jimmy V Award at the ESPYs. The honor is given to a sports figure who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination. Kelly has undergone several surgeries in his battle with oral cancer.
6. Odell Beckham Jr.’s offseason drama continues. Giants head coach Pat Shurmur said the team’s star receiver could possibly be medically cleared to participate in next week’s mini-camp.
7. Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post breaks down the Bowlen family drama: Who will take over as owner of the team?
Packers coach Mike McCarthy offers his film analysis on linebacker Clay Matthews breaking his nose during a charity softball game. “I think he needs to work on his off-hand, mitt-side. That’s what the tape showed me.”
Question? Comment? Story idea? Let the team know at firstname.lastname@example.org