Sanders: 'The Eagles Team Decided To Abandon Their Fans'

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — It was supposed to be a day to honor the NFL Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

Instead, President Donald Trump led a “Celebration of America and Patriotism” Tuesday at the White House. The event was held after the president decided to dis-invite the Eagles, when only a handful said they would attend.

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“We love our country, we respect our flag and we always proudly stand for the national anthem. We always will stand for the national anthem,” Trump said. 

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders blamed the Eagles for playing politics by changing things.

“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 rescheduled the visit when they knew the president was going to be overseas,” she said.

Sanders said in a statement the team had notified the White House last Thursday that 81 members, including players, coaches and managers would be attending. But she said the team got back in touch late Friday and tried to reschedule, “citing the fact that many players would not be in attendance.”

She said the White House continued to work with the team over the weekend, but in the end, “the Eagles offered to send only a tiny handful of representatives, while making clear that the great majority of players would not attend the event.” 

“In other words,” Sanders added, “the vast majority of the Eagles team decided to abandon their fans.”

Eagles officials declined immediate comment on the White House version of events. An earlier team statement said, “Watching the entire Eagles community come together has been an inspiration. We are truly grateful for all of the support we have received and we are looking forward to continuing our preparations for the 2018 season.”

Some Eagles players were furious, saying Trump made them look unpatriotic.

Malcolm Jenkins tweeted a statement, which read in part, “We are fighting for racial and social equality.”

“Simply google: ‘How many Philadelphia Eagles knelt during the national anthem last season?’ and you will find that the answer is zero,” he continued.

Torrey Smith added, “So many lies smh (shake my head). Here are some facts 1. Not many people were going to go 2. Not one refused to go simply because Trump ‘insists’ folks stand for the anthem 3. The President continue to spread the false narrative that players are anti military.”

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Trump took to Twitter earlier Tuesday, saying he will be “honoring America” at the White House after canceling the event with the Eagles.

“We will proudly be playing the National Anthem and other wonderful music celebrating our Country today at 3 P.M.,” the president said. “The White House, with the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus. Honoring America! NFL, no escaping to Locker Rooms!”

Trump announced Monday that he had called off the Eagles’ visit, citing the dispute over whether NFL players must stand during the national anthem, though no Eagles are believed to have kneeled during the anthem last year.

The NFL recently announced a new policy requiring players to stand for the anthem if they’re on the field before a game or otherwise remain in the locker room.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney on Tuesday suggested it was Trump’s patriotism that should be questioned.

“When he had the opportunity to serve his country for real, his father got him out of it, and I think it’s really disingenuous for him to talk about patriotism in any way shape or form,” Kenney told CNN, referring to military draft deferments Trump obtained that kept him out of the service during the Vietnam War.

Last year, the White House canceled a visit by the NBA champion Golden State Warriors after some star players said they wouldn’t be going.

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(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)