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President Trump Cancels White House Visit With Philadelphia Eagles

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The White House held an impromptu celebration of America today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We stand together for patriotism, and we proudly stand for our glorious nation under God. I want to thank you all for being here. This is a beautiful, big celebration. Actually, to be honest, it's even bigger than we had anticipated.

KELLY: Now, the centerpiece of this celebration was supposed to be a White House visit by the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. But last night, after it was clear that few Eagles players were planning to attend, Trump withdrew the invitation, blaming the controversy over some NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. For more, we turn now to Laura Benshoff from member station WHYY in Philadelphia. Hey, Laura.

LAURA BENSHOFF, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So help me fact check here. Am I right in thinking none of the Eagles players actually took a knee during the anthem this last season, right?

BENSHOFF: You are right, and the players have been really adamant about pointing that out in response to this un-invitation. Safety Malcolm Jenkins did raise a fist during the anthem for part of the season to call for social justice but not the whole season.

KELLY: And when I say few Eagles players were planning to attend, do we know how many were planning to attend, to go to the White House before the invitation got yanked?

BENSHOFF: We only have a ballpark. Reports are that it was fewer than 10. Although the White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today they had been expecting something like 80 representatives of the team. But some players, including Malcolm Jenkins who I mentioned, Chris Long - they had publicly announced their plan not to attend several months ago.

KELLY: Now, I mentioned you're in Philadelphia. I know you've been out talking to fans of the Eagles in the city today. What's their reaction to all this?

BENSHOFF: Well, Philadelphians - they're pretty famous for having a chip on their shoulder and having a lot of bluster, and that really came out. The Eagles can kind of do no wrong for a lot of people here. So I heard a lot of support for the team and for individual players. I ran into a woman named Lanette Stewart (ph), who was waiting for her friend outside of a hoagie shop. And she says, you know, if the team didn't care enough to even attend, she doesn't care that the visit was canceled.

LANETTE STEWART: They didn't want to go anyway - OK? - most of them, OK? And then there was a half of them that did. So my thing - I don't care about, you know - they don't care about them not getting invited 'cause they didn't want to go anyway.

KELLY: (Laughter) All right, so the - you can't uninvite me. You can't disinvite me from this party. I didn't want to go anyway. What about fans? Did you meet anybody who supports the president decision, who's backing him on this one?

BENSHOFF: I did. I talked to one man. His name's Mark Banneck (ph). He initially said that he had mixed feelings about the White House's decision to cancel. But when I talked to him a little bit more, he really laid the blame at the feet of the Eagles players, the ones who had announced publicly that they were going to boycott.

MARK BANNECK: The players - I mean, if they want to make a stance against police brutality and Black Lives Matter and all that kind of stuff, there's a forum for that. When you're invited by the president of the United States to celebrate being the Super Bowl champs, we should honor his respect and go.

KELLY: So what are the Eagles players themselves saying today, Laura?

BENSHOFF: Well, they're not saying so much in words. We heard this morning that they wouldn't be able to talk. They'd be in practice today - but in tweets, yes. Wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted that some of the statements put out by the White House contain, in his words, many lies, saying that this is just a misrepresentation of the team's politics. And Malcolm Jenkins said something to the same effect - that the team is being painted as antimilitary when they're not. And they've been pointing out the good deeds that they've been doing as Eagles players.

KELLY: All right, and you - as you said, practicing today instead of visiting the White House. That is WHYY's Laura Benshoff. Thanks so much.

BENSHOFF: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.