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Trump drops Philadelphia Eagles White House invite over anthem protest

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President Donald Trump has cancelled the annual Super Bowl champions' White House visit after most players from the winning team did not want to attend.

He said the Philadelphia Eagles players disagreed with his view "that they proudly stand for the National Anthem".

But team members have not confirmed this is the reason they are boycotting.

Mr Trump has repeatedly criticised NFL players over the past two years who have knelt to protest against police brutality affecting African-Americans.

According to the Associated Press news agency, no Eagles player knelt during the anthem in 2017. The team has not addressed the White House issue directly, but one player, Malcolm Jenkins, said he wanted "to avoid being used as any kind of pawn".

The NFL voted in May to make players on the pitch stand for the anthem.

What did Trump say?
"The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow," Mr Trump said in a statement on Monday.

"They disagree with their president because he insists that they proudly stand for the national anthem, hand on heart, in honour of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country."

He added "1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better" than the smaller delegation.

"These fans are still invited to the White House to be part of a different type of ceremony - one that will honour our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem."

Before the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl in February, several players had suggested they would skip the White House event that is typically held for American sports teams after winning championships.

Last year the president disinvited the National Basketball Association (NBA) champions, the Golden State Warriors, after its star player, Stephen Curry, suggested he might not attend a White House event honouring the team.

What's the background?
The debate over the kneeling protests began in 2016, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem.

Similar demonstrations spread across the league, where most players are African-American.

Some kneeled, as Kaepernick had done, while others linked arms to show solidarity with the movement.

President Donald Trump was highly critical of the protests, calling them "disgraceful" and unpatriotic. He also urged the players to be fired.

More recently, the president suggested that those who did not stand for the anthem "shouldn't be in the country".

US Vice-President Mike Pence walked out of an NFL game because players from Kaepernick's team had knelt during the anthem.

But some current and former Philadelphia Eagles players have said the kneeling issue was not the primary reason why many team members did not want to visit the White House.

They have not elaborated.

What's the reaction?
Pennsylvania lawmakers were quick to respond to Mr Trump's statement. Democratic Senator Bob Casey called the event a "political stunt" and extended an invite to the Eagles to visit the US Capitol instead.

Democratic congressman Brendan Boyle criticised Mr Trump for making the championship team visit "all about you".

Former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith, who won the Super Bowl with the team but has since been traded, called it a "cowardly act".

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