Smith’s comments, made on Twitter, came shortly after Trump announced that he was rescinding his invitation for Philadelphia players and staffers to arrive Tuesday for the traditional champions’ celebration with the sitting president. “The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow,” Trump said in a statement.
“They disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the national anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country. The Eagles wanted to send a smaller delegation, but the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better.”
Trump said that Eagles fans were still invited to “be part of a different type of ceremony — one that will honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the national anthem.”
Smith was among several current and former Eagles players who had publicly stated that they would not visit the White House, and in February he told CNN’s Don Lemon that there were “plenty of guys who said they do not plan on going.” On Monday, the veteran wide receiver offered “some facts” as a rebuttal to Trump’s statement, including that “not many people were going to go.”
“No one refused to go simply because Trump ‘insists’ folks stand for the anthem,” Smith tweeted. “The President continues to spread the false narrative that players are anti-military.”
“There are a lot of people on the team that have plenty of different views,” he added in a subsequent tweet. “The men and women that wanted to go should’ve been able to go.
“It’s a cowardly act to cancel the celebration because the majority of the people don’t want to see you. To make it about the anthem is foolish,” continued Smith, who tweeted of Trump in February, “I don’t think he is a good person.”
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who raised a fist during the anthem before most games last season and was a leader of a group of players who negotiated with the NFL on protest-related issues, said last month that “some guys have dreamed of being able to win a championship and take a visit to the White House, and we’re not trying to deny that to anybody.” However, he added, “There’s also a lot of guys who feel passionate about not going, and so you have to try to find a balance that’s fair for everybody.”
According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo Monday, after recent “conversations” among Philadelphia players and officials, team owner Jeffrey Lurie — whose own anti-Trump comments from October surfaced in April — decided that “he didn’t want to make it a sideshow and wanted to keep this contingent [of visiting Eagles] really small.” In fact, Garafolo claimed, fewer than 10 members of Lurie’s organization were set to meet with Trump.
“A large group of Eagles players had decided not to attend, including most — if not all — of the black players,” ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported. The network’s Sal Paolantonio cited a source who said that Lurie was among those planning on visiting the White House, along with Coach Doug Pederson.
“Canceled because guys wasn’t coming,” the Redskins’ Phil Taylor tweeted of Trump’s decision. The defensive tackle replied to one of Smith’s tweets Monday by saying of the president, “Got a big kid in office! Mad he don’t get his way!”
Both Taylor and Smith retweeted a post by the Nation’s Dave Zirin, who shared a quote by Smith from February, in which the former Maryland player discussed his antipathy toward a White House visit while Trump was in office.
“For me, It’s not just about politics,” Smith said then. “If I told you that I was invited to a party by an individual I believe is sexist or has no respect for women, or I told you that this individual has said offensive things toward many minority groups, … this individual also called my peers and my friends SOBs, you would understand why I wouldn’t want to go to that party. Why is it any different when the person has title of president of the United States?”
Smith, who pointed out that no one on the Eagles actually “took a knee” before any regular season games last year, also responded to a Twitter user who claimed to be a veteran and who said he felt “disrespected” by people not standing for the anthem. “Much respect to you and your feelings. You literally fought for the right to protest peacefully,” Smith said, noting that his father was in the military for over 20 years and “understands the protest isn’t against him.”
Pennsylvania senator Robert P. Casey Jr. said on Twitter Monday that he was “proud of what the Eagles accomplished this year” and would be “skipping this political stunt at the White House.” Instead, the Democratic Party member offered the team “a tour of the Capitol.”
A harsher assessment of Trump’s move was offered by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who said in a statement, “Disinviting [the Eagles] from the White House only proves that our president is not a true patriot, but a fragile egomaniac obsessed with crowd size and afraid of the embarrassment of throwing a party to which no one wants to attend.” He added that he was “proud of the Eagles’ activism off the field,” describing them as “players who stand up for the causes they believe in and who contribute in meaningful ways to their community.”
While the players who have protested during the anthem have said they were doing so to bring attention to racial injustice, Trump has been criticizing them for a lack of patriotism since he was a candidate for the presidency. His fiery comments and tweets on the subject last season kept the protests in the headlines, much to the chagrin of NFL officials, who have been seeking to end the demonstrations without incurring major rancor from players.
Last month, the league announced a new policy on conduct during pregame renditions of the anthem, creating the possibility of fines for players who “do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” Players who are not comfortable standing, though, will be permitted to remain in the locker room during the anthem.
“I don’t think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still I think it’s good,” Trump initially said of the new policy, adding, “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
According to testimony from a deposition obtained last week by the Wall Street Journal, Trump said to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones of his continuing criticism of the protests, “This is a very winning, strong issue for me. Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.”