MA in Sports Journalism at St Mary's University

Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Donald Trump, the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles: a sport brought to the brink by politics

In the words of former U.S. speed-skater Eric Heiden, “sports and politics don’t mix.” 

But during the time that Donald Trump has been United States President, we’ve seen players called “son’s of b*****s” by Trump, players filing lawsuits against the league over allegations of collusion and new rules implemented by the owners to force players to stand. 

But, the most recent event in this storyline is arguably the most important, just 24 hours before the Philadelphia Eagles were due to appear at the White House in Washington – as is customary for the Super Bowl champions – their visit was cancelled by President Trump. 

Although the wording of this quote from Trump suggests it was his decision to cancel their invitation, his narcissism and pettiness dictates that he portrays this image. 

In reality however, so few Eagles players were planning to go to the White House – with reports suggesting that only two were planning to go – that Trump believed he could save face by cancelling their invite. 

This is the first time an NFL team has willingly not made the traditional journey to visit the President after becoming champions, but it has become commonplace in other sports, in particular basketball.

As I’m sure most of you are aware, after the Golden State Warriors won the championship in 2017, Stephen Curry expressed his desire to not visit Trump in the White House, after which Trump said there was no invitation at all, leading to this world-class tweet from LeBron James. 

There were reports that the New England Patriots may have boycotted this trip last year after they won the Super Bowl but with an owner – Robert Kraft – who is good friends with Trump – and Tom Brady – who has been a public supporter of Trump – it was unlikely that they would not attend. 

Whilst this may not seem a huge deal to fans of other sports, the importance of an NFL team – a team made up over 50 players – boycotting a visit to meet the President cannot be understated. 

It is awful timing for the NFL owners as a whole after their recent decision to implement a rule change forcing players to stand during the national anthem or face a penalty. 

The expressed aim for this rule change was to ‘take attention off of the anthem’ but with Trump clearly suggesting that the Eagles players’ were not invited due to their part in the protests, it heaps all the attention back onto them. 

The odd part of this whole saga for me is that of all the teams to aim his displeasure at about their roles in the protests, why did Trump pick the Eagles? 

The obvious thing to say is that they were the Super Bowl champs, but I believe it runs more deeply than that. 

Despite having a roster that contains players who are extremely vocal and active about issues outside of sports, not one Eagles player has knelt during the national anthem. 

And it is that social awareness and lack of fear for standing up for what they believe in that I believe Trump took opposition to. 

He may have chosen the Eagles to make an example of because the Eagles owner, Jeffrey Lurie, is one of the tiny minority of owners to be openly against Donald Trump after he called his reign “disasterous”.

If a vast majority of the Eagles were kneeling during national anthems then he could justify it by making reference to that. But by simply saying that they are not invited and referring to something that was just not happening, it makes him seem as if he is opposed to players like Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long and Michael Bennett participating in debates about equality and racial discrimination. 

Featured photo © Wikimedia Commons

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