The union representing NFL players expressed disappointment in President Donald Trump’s decision to disinvite the Philadelphia Eagles from the traditional championship celebration at the White House on Tuesday – as Trump criticized the players in a series of tweets.
“NFL players love their country, support our troops, give back to their communities and strive to make America a better place,” the NFL Players Association said in a statement Tuesday morning.
Trump canceled the visit from the Super Bowl-winning team because some players “disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem,” he said in a statement Monday evening.
Trump said the fans who planned on attending the ceremonial event “deserve better” than the small delegation of players. In place of the ceremony Tuesday, the White House will instead have the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus deliver a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.”
The President took to Twitter Tuesday to reiterate his criticism of the players who refused to visit the White House. The Philadelphia Inquirer cited team sources as saying that fewer than 10 Eagles players had planned to attend the White House ceremony.
“Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!” he tweeted
In a statement that did not address the White House or the president, the Eagles said: “It has been incredibly thrilling to celebrate our first Super Bowl Championship. Watching the entire Eagles community come together has been an inspiration.”
Following their Super Bowl win earlier this year, several players — including safety Malcolm Jenkins, defensive end Chris Long and wide receiver Torrey Smith — said they would not attend the White House event if invited. As TIME has detailed, no players from the Eagles or their Super Bowl LII opponents, the New England Patriots, protested the national anthem when it played at the February match-up. During the season, the only sign of protest from the Eagles came when Smith and Long raised their fists in the air during the anthem.
Trump repeatedly attacked the NFL and players for protesting during the National Anthem last season. At a campaign-style event last fall, the President said NFL owners should fire any players who protest. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!” Trump said at the time.
Last month, the NFL implemented a new policy that says teams will be fined if players do not “stand and show respect for the flag” during the National Anthem. Players would be allowed to stay in the locker room, during the anthem, however. The NFL Players Association has said it would challenge the new rule.
The anthem protests in the NFL began before Trump took office. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first athlete to kneel during the National Anthem several years ago to protest injustices faced by people of color in America. The sign of protest grew throughout the NFL — and into other professional leagues like the NBA and into amateur ones like high school sports leagues.
The Eagles aren’t the only professional team to be at odds with Trump. The President disinvited Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry from his championship-winning team’s White House visit last fall when he showed signs he was “hesitating.” (Curry had told reporters he did not want to go.) As a result, the entire NBA Championship-winning team chose not to go.
“We believe there is nothing more American than our citizens having the right to express themselves freely on matters important to them,” the Warriors said in a statement.