Donald Trump calls off Philadelphia Eagles visit to the White House in NFL national anthem dispute

The decision reignited the debate on whether NFL players must stand during the playing of the national anthem. Credit: AP

US president Donald Trump has called off a visit by the Philadelphia Eagles to the White House, citing the dispute over whether NFL players must stand during the playing of the national anthem.

Mr Trump said in a statement that some members of the Super Bowl championship team “disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honour of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country”.

He said the team wanted to send a smaller delegation, but “the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better”.

Instead, Mr Trump said he would be hosting “a different type of ceremony”, featuring the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus, that “will honour our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem”.

It remains unclear exactly what prompted the change of plans.

The White House did not immediately response to questions about what had sparked the decision and why the circumstances were different from other events honouring winning teams, which some members have boycotted.

The NFL recently announced a new policy requiring players to stand for the anthem if they are on the field before a game, but gave them the option of staying in the locker room if they want to carry on the Colin Kaepernick-inspired campaign against police brutality and social injustice.

The president later tweeted on Tuesday to say that staying in the locker room during the national anthem “is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling”.

“The Philadelphia Eagles Football Team was invited to the White House. Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event. Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!,” he said.

During an earlier interview after the new policy was announced, Mr Trump praised the league for doing “the right thing”.

“You have to stand proudly for the national anthem,” Mr Trump said. Or “you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”

Donald Trump has waged a war of words with the NFL winners. Credit: AP

Several members of the Eagles have voiced staunch opposition.

“This is a fear of the diminished bottom line,” defensive end Chris Long said last month after the NFL announced its new policy.

“It’s also fear of a president turning his base against a corporation. This is not patriotism. Don’t get it confused. These owners don’t love America more than the players demonstrating and taking real action to improve it.”

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins is among the outspoken players have also vowed to carry on the cause.

“I will not let it silence me or stop me from fighting,” he said recently.

“This has never been about taking a knee, raising a fist or anyone’s patriotism, but doing what we can to effect real change for real people.”

The Eagles did not respond immediately to requests for comment.