The Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday received a June 5 invitation to the White House.
But how many players will go?
Outspoken safety Malcolm Jenkins repeated his decision to skip the “photo op” Thursday while he attended an event to help feed families in Camden.
“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,” Jenkins said, according to Fox29. “But there are also a lot of guys who are passionate about not going.”
The team said in a statement, “We are in the process of working through the logistics of a trip to Washington, D.C., including a visit to the White House, on June 5.”
In Washington, White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said in a statement, “President Trump looks forward to welcoming the Philadelphia Eagles to the White House on June 5 to celebrate their Super Bowl LII win.”
Other players could not be reached, but their stands on the visit have been a source of interest since the Super Bowl, especially after high-profile players such as defensive end Chris Long and wide receiver Torrey Smith, agreed with Jenkins and said they would not attend.
The team has a practice scheduled for June 5 as part of its offseason workouts. But it canceled such a session last season, when coach Doug Pederson took the players on a paintball outing.
Jenkins, who has been one of the NFL’s most outspoken players about political and social justice issues, said in February that he was not interested in a “photo opportunity,” but he would not get in the way of teammates who wanted to attend.
“I don’t want to take away from anybody’s experience or make it a big distraction,” Jenkins said then. “It is a celebratory event. I want the guys who choose to go to enjoy that. … Me personally, because it is not a meeting or a sit-down or anything like that, I’m just not interested in the photo op. … Over the last two years, I have been meeting with legislators, both Republican and Democrat, don’t matter. If you want to meet to talk about advancing our communities, changing our country, I am all for that. But this isn’t one of those meetings.”
Center Jason Kelce and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox have declined to say whether they would attend. Quarterback Nick Foles said he will do “whatever the team decides.”
The Eagles’ invitation and possible visit have received added scrutiny this year because Trump spoke out against the NFL players who demonstrated during the national anthem last season. During a rally in Alabama in September, Trump said that when an NFL player “disrespects” the flag, that team’s owner should say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fired. He’s fired!” Vice President Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game against the San Francisco 49ers in October after players demonstrated during the anthem.
Owners and players met at the NFL’s New York headquarters in October to discuss the issue. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who has supported his players in social activism, reportedly spoke out against Trump at that meeting, after a player said it was difficult to trust the owners because they supported the president.
“Another fact I want to throw out there: Many of us have no interest in supporting President Trump,” Lurie said, according to a recording the New York Times obtained, in which Lurie asked not to be quoted. “Yes, there are some [owners]. There are some players who do, too. But this is not where you brandish a group of people because they own assets in a sport we love, supporting what many of us perceive as, you know, one disastrous presidency.”
The Times reported that Lurie used a vulgarity to emphasize “disastrous” before adding, “Don’t quote me.”
Controversy about a championship-winning team visiting the White House is not an issue exclusive to the Eagles. Trump blasted the New York Times last year when the Times compared a photo of the New England Patriots’ 2017 visit to their 2015 visit. The Patriots clarified that the photo from 2015, when former President Barack Obama was in office, included members of the football staff, not just players. But the number of players in attendance declined from about 50 to 34, according to the Times, although that could also be attributed to two visits in three years.
The first NFL team to visit the White House was the 1980 Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, which was invited by President Jimmy Carter as part of a dual ceremony with the 1979 World Series-winning Pittsburgh Pirates.
The first time an athlete’s decision to boycott the White House celebration made big news was 1984, when NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird declined President Ronald Reagan’s invitation to attend a celebration of the NBA champion Boston Celtics.
Bird didn’t offer a public reason for his decision to skip the White House visit, saying at the time, “If the president wants to see me, he knows where to find me.”