Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz called out Fox News for using photos of players kneeling in pregame prayer during a segment about the team’s canceled Super Bowl visit to the White House, calling it “propaganda.” The network later apologized for showing the footage, which was unrelated to the NFL’s national anthem demonstrations, during its report on the rescinded visit.
The White House, meanwhile, issued a statement further explaining how and why the visit was called off. The statement said that “the great majority of [Eagles] players” were not planning to attend the scheduled White House celebration and that “the vast majority of the Eagles team decided to abandon their fans.”
Ertz and his Eagles teammates were shown kneeling in several photos during the Fox News segment, but Ertz said the players were kneeling in prayer, not to raise awareness of social injustice and police brutality issues, as other players have done. Trump has used the pregame demonstrations as a rallying point, and Vice President Pence departed early from an Indianapolis Colts game last fall when members of the San Francisco 49ers took a knee.
Ertz spotted the photos in the Fox report, tweeting Tuesday morning, “This can’t be serious. … Praying before games with my teammates, well before the anthem, is being used for your propaganda?! Just sad. I feel like you guys should have to be better than this.” Ertz’s tweet quickly was shared on social media, gathering more than 83,000 likes and 33,000 retweets within six hours. And by midmorning, the network had apologized for the report on “Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream.”
“During our report about President Trump canceling the Philadelphia Eagles’ trip to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl win, we showed unrelated footage of players kneeling in prayer,” Christopher Wallace, executive producer of “Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream,” said in a statement sent to The Post. “To clarify, no members of the team knelt in protest during the national anthem through the regular or postseason last year. We apologize for the error.”
Other Eagles players continued to express their frustrations with both Fox News and the White House on the day they were scheduled to visit Washington. Defensive lineman Chris Long tweeted that Fox should make an on-the-air apology. Malcolm Jenkins, a safety who demonstrated last season by raising a fist as he stood for the anthem, tweeted an essay with the hashtag “#TheFightContinues,” listing work Philadelphia players had done to improve their communities.
“Everyone, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, deserves to be treated equally. We are fighting for racial and social equality,” he wrote in part.
“Simply Google: ‘How many Philadelphia Eagles knelt during the national anthem last season?’ and you find that the answer is zero. A similar Google search will show you how many great things the players on this team are doing and continue to do on daily basis.
“Instead the decision was made to lie and paint the picture that these players are anti-America, anti-flag and anti-military.”
The Eagles’ trip was called off less than 24 hours before it was to take place, with Trump saying in a statement Monday that he would appear with only the team’s fans and the United States Marine Band and Army Chorus, and that the anthem would be played “loudly and proudly.” His decision came after some players said they would skip the ceremony in protest; a senior administration official told The Post that only 10 to 12 people might come representing the team, creating a meager celebration.
“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,” Trump’s statement said. “The Eagles wanted to send a smaller delegation, but the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better.”
Instead, Trump announced “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.”
On Tuesday, the White House issued a statement explaining how the cancellation occurred, “sensing a lack of good faith” in conversations with the Eagles about scheduling.
After extensive discussions with the Eagles organization, which began in February, the team accepted an invitation from the president to attend a June 5 celebration of their victory in Super Bowl LII at the White House.
On Thursday, May 31, the team notified the White House of 81 individuals, including players, coaches, management and support personnel, who would attend the event. On Friday, the Secret Service cleared them for participation. These individuals, along with more than 1,000 Eagles fans, were scheduled to attend the event.
Late Friday, citing the fact that many players would not be in attendance, the team contacted the White House again and attempted to reschedule the event. The president, however, had already announced that he would be traveling overseas on the dates the Eagles proposed. The White House, despite sensing a lack of good faith, nonetheless attempted to work with the Eagles over the weekend to change the event format that could accommodate a smaller group of players. Unfortunately, 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 despite planning to be in D.C. today. In other words, the vast majority of the Eagles team decided to abandon their fans.
Upon learning these facts, the president decided to change the event so that it would be a celebration of the American flag with Eagles fans and performances by the United States Marine Band and the U.S. Army Chorus.
Long, who donated his salary to charity last season and spoke out after violence erupted in his home town of Charlottesville last summer, sharply criticized Fox News for using the images of players in prayer.
“Imagine wanting to please the boss so very badly that you run stills of guys knelt down PRAYING during pregame,” he tweeted. “Not one Eagles player knelt for the anthem this [year]. Keep carrying his water to sow division while misrepresenting Christian men. Aren’t many of your viewers … nevermind.”
Long urged Fox to apologize on the air. “Fox News used the faith of Christian men dishonestly to push an agenda. That wasn’t an ‘error,’ but intentional and strategic,” he tweeted. “They’ve deleted the segment [and] apologized on Twitter, but many viewers don’t have Twitter. An on air apology to all Christians would be the classy move.”
Wide receiver Torrey Smith, who now plays for the Carolina Panthers, called Trump’s cancellation a “cowardly” decision Monday night and tweeted that the president’s statement contained “so many lies.” Smith, who had not planned to attend the White House celebration, tweeted that “not many [players] were planning to go” and added: “No one refused to go simply because Trump ‘insists’ folks stand for the anthem. 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,” Smith added in a subsequent tweet. “The men and women that wanted to go should’ve been able to go.”
The NFL Players Association expressed displeasure with Trump’s decision, saying in a statement Tuesday: “Our union is disappointed in the decision by the White House to disinvite players from the Philadelphia Eagles from being recognized and celebrated by all Americans for their accomplishment. This decision by the White House has led to the cancellation of several player-led community service events for young people in the Washington, DC area. NFL players love their country, support our troops, give back to their communities and strive to make America a better place.”
Several Eagles players have been active in trying to raise awareness of social injustice, but none took a knee during the anthem last season. Several, like Jenkins, raised a fist during the anthem at times; Long has supported those teammates, standing beside them.
As for Fox’s photos, Ertz told the Associated Press in January that Eagles players’ faith “truly is a brotherhood. Those guys are holding me accountable. Off the field, I’m holding them accountable. We truly care about each other, we truly care about the growth that each individual has in the Word, as believers, as well as friends and family. There are a lot of guys who are truly trying to boost me up and keep me focused on the main thing, which is obviously the Word.”
Defensive end Steven Means told the AP that the bond of faith is “stronger” among Eagles players. “It’s another level because we push each other in certain areas that we are flawed at and open ourselves up to each other. We text each other throughout the day making sure that everybody is on the right path and doing the right thing.”
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