PHILADELPHIA — Eagles players and officials made individual decisions to not go to the White House for a scheduled celebration of their Super Bowl title, leaving two players actually planning to make the trip to Washington before the visit was canceled by President Donald Trump, according to players and a person familiar with the arrangements.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because of the sensitivity of the issues.
All-Pro center Jason Kelce said players filled out forms anonymously indicating whether they wanted to go to the White House, not make the trip or go to Washington and do something else.
“It’s a little bit disappointing as a country right now that we’re so divided, I think that’s the bigger disappointment,” said Kelce, who became a folk hero in Philadelphia for an impassioned, profane rally speech he gave after a day of antics during the city’s Super Bowl parade.
The players did not urge a collective decision on what to do as a team, giving each player his own option of whether to take the trip.
Defensive end Chris Long, who skipped the trip last year when he was with the New England Patriots and again decided early to not attend, said he hopes athletes on championship teams in all sports won’t have to make the decision when Trump’s term is up for re-election in 2020.
“The players didn’t create this division (in the country),” Long said. “I’m extremely proud to be part of this team.”
Safety Malcolm Jenkins, an outspoken leader for social reforms, held up handwritten signs on issues important to him and other players instead of verbally answering questions.
“You aren’t listening,” one sign said. Another said that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick gave $1 million to charity. Kaepernick began the wave of kneeling protests in the NFL as a way to protest racism and police brutality, and is working through a grievance case against the league after he was not signed by any team following his run with San Francisco.
Another sign by Jenkins read: “More than 60 percent of people in prison are people of color.”
Coach Doug Pederson said before practice that he was looking forward to going to the White House to be recognized as Super Bowl champions but he wouldn’t further discuss details of the trip’s breakdown. He declined to provide information on how things escalated to the White House accusing players of abandoning their fans by deciding to not attend.
“What you’ve seen and what you’ve heard is enough. I’m not discussing it,” Pederson said. “The team is great. We’re united. Our goal is 2018. It’s over. It’s behind us. We’re moving on.”
Trump rescinded his invitation late Monday and instead turned the ceremony for the Eagles on Tuesday into his own brief “Celebration of America” after it became clear most players weren’t going to show up. Trump tied the dispute to his criticism of players who have kneeled during the national anthem, even though no Eagles players kneeled for the song during the 2017 season.
Also Wednesday, hockey player Devante Smith-Pelly said he would skip a White House visit if the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup. Smith-Pelly, one of two black Capitals players, spoke about Trump to Canada’s Postmedia.
“The things that he spews are straight-up racist and sexist,” Smith-Pelly said with the Capitals a victory away from their first title. “Some of the things he’s said are pretty gross. I’m not too into politics, so I don’t know all his other views, but his rhetoric I definitely don’t agree with. It hasn’t come up here, but I think I already have my mind made up.”
On Tuesday, NBA stars LeBron James and Curry both said they wouldn’t visit.
Eagles Tight end Zach Ertz wore a Team USA soccer jersey while answering questions and said he’s “proud to be an American.”
“Everyone in this locker room understands that everyone’s heart is in the right place,” Ertz said. “We weren’t going to let someone try and formulate an agenda. What’s unique about this locker room is that everyone’s treated with respect, people truly care about one another, people respect other people’s opinions. We’re united.”
Long took a shot at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for staying silent on the matter.
“If he doesn’t want to stand up for his players, that’s not my business,” Long said. “I know my teammates are great men. There’s men of faith in this locker room. There’s men who serve their communities. There’s men who have a lot who give back to people with a lot less.”