Donald v. The Eagles: Why Did Trump Lie About Football and the National Anthem?

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Donald Trump at the White House, June 5, 2018 (Susan Walsh/AP)

An attempted distraction from troubles such as the Russia investigation? A case of oversized ego? Another expression of a President’s attitude towards race and protest?

Why did Donald Trump lie so blatantly as he cancelled his hosting of the Philadelphia Eagles, this year’s Super Bowl winners, at the White House?

The episode started on Monday when Trump tweeted that the traditional visit would not take place, invoking his bashing of players of the National Football League for “Take the Knee” protests over social issues:

The White House then issued 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.

There are a series of falsehoods in Trump’s assertions:

1. Many of the Eagles decided that they would not attend as part of Trump’s planned “Celebration of America”, but this was not about the National Anthem or the US flag. Instead, as wide receiver Torrey Smith told CNN in February after the Super Bowl victory:

For me, it’s not just about politics. You know, if I told you that I was invited to a party by an individual that I believe is sexist or has no respect for women, or I told that you this individual has said offensive things towards many minority groups and I don’t feel comfortable by it, this individual also called my peers and my friends SOBs, you would understand why I wouldn’t want to go to that party.

Smith added, “I respect the office, but…we hold our athletes and our entertainers to higher standards than we do for the President for the United States.”

He explained that “many guys planned on not going” although “it would not be fair” to stop others from attending.

2. Not a single Eagle took a knee during the playing of the National Anthem in the 2017-2018 season.

Trump’s ally Fox TV put out a photo which claimed to be of a player protesting. In fact, the image was of two Eagles praying before the start of the game.

EAGLES PRAYING

One of the two players, tight end Zach Ertz, responded on Twitter before Fox deleted its tweet promoting the false claim:

3. As Smith pointed out on Twitter on Tuesday, “The President continues to spread the false narrative that players are anti military.”

Forgotting the Words for Patriotism

Trump persisted on Tuesday with the “Celebration of America”, jabbing again at the players and the National Football League:

But Trump’s promotion of America — and perhaps himself — did not go quite as planned.

The event on the White House South Lawn lasted only 12 minutes, with Trump spending four minutes touting his “achievements”.

Only a few hundred people were present even as Trump maintained, “This is a beautiful, big celebration. Actually, to be honest, it’s even bigger than we had anticipated.” At the start of the speech, there was a shout of “Eagles” but also some heckling, bringing boos from the crowd.

And then Trump, who had criticized his disinvited guests for being “disrespectful” to the National Anthem, forgot the words — or has never learned them — of “God Bless America”:

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