The mayor of Philadelphia has described Donald Trump as “a fragile egomaniac” after the president rescinded a White House invitation to the city’s Super Bowl-winning team, as punishment for players protesting against his policies.
The Philadelphia Eagles were due on Tuesday to celebrate their first Super Bowl victory with the traditional presidential party.
But on the eve of the event, the White House issued a statement saying the visit had been called off because many of the players said they would boycott the event.
The White House said on Tuesday that they had initially been told 81 people were going to attend, but on Monday, they were informed that the final confirmed number of attendees was fewer than 10 – including players, coaches and trainers.
None of the players knelt last season during the national anthem – a personal bugbear of the president – but the Eagles has been one of the most outspoken teams against Mr Trump’s policies, especially safety Malcolm Jenkins, who was not planning on attending the ceremony.
He raised a fist during the national anthem last year, but agreed to stop when the NFL agreed to donate $100 million to charities and causes important to African-American communities.
"There is so much that has been swirling around that administration," he said. "I don’t see it as beneficial at this moment in time to visit in a celebratory fashion."
Mr Trump, aware of how the celebration would look, cancelled the party but went ahead with a "celebration" without the players, describing it as being "even bigger than we anticipated".
"We love our country, we love our flag and we will always stand for the national anthem," said Mr Trump, welcoming fans to the White House for a "great patriotic celebration".
He continued: "We stand to honour our military, and honour our country, and remember those who never made it back home," he said.
"America is a great nation, a community, a family, our home – and America has never done better than it is now; record numbers."
He then reeled off employment statistics and business rates.
"We stand together for freedom, we stand together for patriotism, and our glorious nation under God."
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, on Tuesday accused the Eagles of orchestrating "a political stunt" and informing the White House of their much-reduced delegation "at the eleventh hour" to embarrass the president.
The White House statement read: "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.
"These fans are still invited to the White House 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."
The team have not commented on the unprecedented snub, only issuing a bland statement thanking the fans for their support.
“It has been incredibly thrilling to celebrate our first Super Bowl championship,” the club said. “We are truly grateful for the support we have received.”
But Torrey Smith, who has previously criticised the president as sexist and racist, said disinviting his team mates was “cowardly”.
He said no one was refusing to go simply because Mr Trump insisted they stand for the national anthem.
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“There are a lot of people on the team that have plenty of different views,” he said. “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.”
But the mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney, lashed out at the president for withholding the honour, saying he was “proud of the Eagles’ activism off the field.”
Carson Wentz, the quarterback, spent the day tweeting about his Christian food trucks, The Kingdom Crumb, delivering free meals to the city’s homeless.
“These are players who stand up for the causes they believe in and who contribute in meaningful ways to their community,” said Mr Kenney.
“They represent the diversity of our nation – a nation in which we are free to express our opinions.
“Disinviting them 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.”
Mr Trump has repeatedly lashed out at players who kneel for the national anthem, in protest at police treatment of African American communities, and had described them as unpatriotic.
Last week the body that governs American football, the NFL, bowed to Mr Trump’s views and issued new rules to fine teams if their players knelt during the national anthem.
The players’ union reacted with anger, and the Philadelphia Eagles took a vote to decide whether to attend the White House ceremony. They voted, however, to go ahead with the visit.
Mr Trump said he would be there at 3pm "with the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus to celebrate America."
He later tweeted: "Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!"
The Philadelphia Eagles Football Team was invited to the White House. Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event. Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2018
There are a lot of people on the team that have plenty of different views. 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
— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) June 4, 2018
The visit was controversial from the start, with many players saying well in advance that they would not attend.
Jenkins said in February he did not want to go.
"When it comes to this presidency, I’m not very excited about getting my picture taken with him," Jenkins said.
"This is a celebratory event where we come, the President comes in, shakes a couple hands, takes a picture and leaves. And I’m just not interested in that.
"It’s just not worth my time. I’d rather spend my time working with whoever on these issues that we’ve been fighting for. That’s just my personal decision."
He said some of his team mates disagreed, however.
"Some guys have dreamed about winning a championship and taking that trip to the White House and we’re not going to deny that to anybody.
"But there are also a lot of guys who are passionate about not going."
Chris Long won the Super Bowl in 2017 with the New England Patriots and boycotted the White House visit, and said he planned to do the same this year.
"My son grows up, and I believe the legacy of our president is going to be what it is," he said in January.
"I don’t want him to say, ‘Hey dad, why’d you go (to the White House) when you knew the right thing was to not go?’"
But Doug Pederson, the head coach, said he was excited to go to the White House.
"We are excited to be going and be honoured as world champions," he said last week.
"It’s a great honour. We are still working on logistics, but we are excited to be going."