Several Philadelphia Eagles players have said they will skip the traditional team visit to the White House in the wake of their victory against the New England Patriots on Sunday night. Some have cited President Trump’s negative rhetoric regarding the NFL protests as a motivating factor, while others say they are concerned about ongoing injustices affecting minority communities and the seeming lack of government response to the problem.
“I personally do not anticipate attending that,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said during an interview with CNN’s New Day on Monday. “[I’m not sending] a message [to] the president, my message has been clear all year. I’m about creating positive change in the communities that I come from, whether it be Philadelphia, New Jersey, Ohio, Louisiana, or this entire country. I want to see changes in our criminal justice system. I want to see us push for economic and educational advancement in communities of color and low-income communities. And I want to see our relationships between our communities and our law enforcement be advanced.”
He added, “That’s what myself and my peers have been pushing for for the last two years, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”
“We read the news just like everyone else,” wide receiver Torrey Smith told reporters last Wednesday, explaining his decision not to attend the White House meeting. “You see Donald Trump tweet something … We have those conversations in the locker room, just like everyone else does in the workplace.”
Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who boycotted last year’s White House visit as a member of the Patriots and donated his entire 2017 season salary to support education equality for underprivileged students, has also said he will be skipping this year’s trip.
“No, I’m not going to the White House. Are you kidding me?” he said, in an interview with the Pardon My Take podcast last Sunday.
Jenkins has been a prominent voice in the NFL take-a-knee protests, which were started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid in early 2016, in response to instances of police brutality and injustice against black and minority communities. In November, Jenkins and the NFL Players Coalition struck a deal with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, requiring the league agreed to donate $89 million to “address social issues considered important to African-American communities.”
Trump has previously stated that any NFL player protesting during the national anthem is a “son of a bitch” and should be fired. He has also routinely misconstrued the meaning behind the protests, suggesting that those who have taken a knee or raised a fist during the national anthem were protesting the anthem itself and acting unpatriotic.
“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem,” he tweeted in September. “If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
During a rally that same month in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump told a crowd of supporters:
Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired”? …Some owner is going to do that. He’s gonna say, “That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.” And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in the country.
In a statement released on Sunday ahead of the Super Bowl, Trump doubled down, suggesting that any protests against injustice would be offensive to families of military service members.
“Though many of our nation’s service members are unable to be home with family and friends to enjoy this evening’s American tradition, they are always in our thoughts and prayers,” the statement read. “We owe these heroes the greatest respect for defending our liberty and our American way of life. Their sacrifice is stitched into each star and every stripe of our Star-Spangled Banner. We hold them in our hearts and thank them for our freedom as we proudly stand for the national anthem.”
Speaking with reporters last week, Eagles wide receiver Smith pushed back on the president’s claims.
“They call it the anthem protest. We’re not protesting the anthem. It’s a protest during the anthem,” he said.
He added, “…I’m not saying we’re right about everything, but we’re willing to figure out what is right. We’re willing to work with people to find the best way to move forward, because there are problems and we’re not shy about speaking up about them.”
During Sunday evening’s game, Jenkins decided not to raise his fist or take a knee during the national anthem. Smith chose to raise his fist in a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.