What Eagles' canceled White House visit means, and what's next

Eagles' visit to White House canceled (1:52)

The Philadelphia Eagles' scheduled ceremony at the White House was canceled over the dispute over standing during the national anthem. (1:52)

President Donald Trump has canceled the Philadelphia Eagles' trip to the White House scheduled for Tuesday, returning the NFL to the national spotlight in a way owners hoped to avoid after announcing a new national anthem policy last month.

Let's take a closer look at how we got here, what it means and what's next.

What exactly was supposed to happen on Tuesday?

The Eagles were supposed to be honored for their victory in Super Bowl LII, a tradition for championship sports teams that dates back to at least 1865. The ceremony is traditionally non-political and usually involves a group photo, tour of the White House and light-hearted remarks by the president.

Then what's the issue?

In the days after their victory, a number of Eagles players -- including safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive end Chris Long -- made clear that they would not participate in the visit. Among the reasons, receiver Torrey Smith told CNN in February, were comments that Trump made last fall about NFL players. Trump said they should be taken off the field and "fired" if they continued protests during the national anthem.

"The whole thing behind my decision not to go to the White House," Jenkins told The Undefeated, "is that time and time again we keep hearing, especially from this administration, the rhetoric about players and the anthem protests ... and it has all been negative. Calling us 'sons of bitches' and talking about we should leave the country, yet not one time has this administration acknowledged the amount of work that players have been doing to engage and improve their communities. Not once. ... They're not talking about the fact that guys are out here getting people [registered] to vote. They're not talking about the countless hours that guys are giving of their own time to really try to help people. They're not talking about the millions of dollars that guys give away to really improve their communities and their country. That stuff never gets any acknowledgment."

Is this unusual? Is every player expected to attend these ceremonies?

No. In fact, rarely has a team's full roster made the trip. The visit is usually scheduled after the free-agency period, meaning some players have moved on to other teams. Smith, for example, was traded to the Carolina Panthers. Sometimes there are offseason scheduling conflicts.

And politics aren't usually a factor?

Actually, this would not have been the first time that an NFL player skipped a Super Bowl celebration at the White House for political reasons. In 2013, for example, now-retired center Matt Birk skipped the Baltimore Ravens' trip because then-President Barack Obama had recently expressed support for Planned Parenthood.

"I am active in the pro-life movement," Birk told KFAN-100.3 at the time, "and I just felt like I couldn't deal with that. I couldn't endorse that in any way."

What makes this instance different?

In this case, the vast majority of Eagles players weren't planning to go to the White House. Some had planned community service events in the Washington area. According to ESPN's Don Van Natta, five or fewer players were scheduled to visit with Trump. In addition, owner Jeffrey Lurie and coach Doug Pederson were also expected in attendance.

According to a White House statement, the Eagles committed to 81 participants among players, coaches, staff and management last week. Then, the Eagles asked to reschedule the event for later this month, but Trump was scheduled to be overseas. Finally, according to the White House, the Eagles offered only a "tiny handful of representatives."

Why did Trump cancel?

In a statement, Trump said that Eagles players "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."

Who from the Eagles kneeled last season?

No Eagles player kneeled during the national anthem in the regular season. Jenkins was among several players throughout the league who raised his fist during the anthem, and Long placed his hand on Jenkins' shoulder, until Week 13. At that point, a coalition of players led by Jenkins had agreed on the framework of an $89 million social justice platform with the league.

What exactly are NFL players protesting?

Dating back to the summer of 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick became the first player to kneel, players have said they are protesting social injustice in general and police brutality in particular.

What has the NFL said about Trump's decision to cancel the visit?

There has been no direct response from the NFL, but one of its Twitter accounts retweeted a statement from the Eagles that said in part: "We are truly grateful for all of the support we have received and we are looking forward to continuing our preparations for the 2018 season." The NFL Players Association said it was "disappointed" in the cancellation and added: "NFL players love our country, support our troops, give back to their communities and strive to make America a better place."

Owners can't be happy to see this story back in the headlines.

Nope. Last month, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the league was trying to move past Trump's past criticism so that fans can "zero in" in football. June is usually a quiet time in the NFL, but Trump's decision and subsequent comments make clear that the anthem issue isn't going away as owners hoped.

Didn't owners come up with the new policy to address this?

Yes. It was an attempt to thread the needle among owners who disagreed on how best to react, if at all, to Trump's involvement. Players are now required to stand and show respect during the anthem if they are on the field, but have the option of remaining in the locker room if they prefer. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said at the time: "It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case."

What's wrong with that?

It doesn't appear to have had the desired effect, at least not yet. In a tweet, Trump said that staying in the locker room during the anthem is "as disrespectful to our country as kneeling." Players did not greet the policy warmly, either. The NFLPA said it would "review" the policies for possible inconsistencies with the league's collective bargaining agreement.

What will happen if players remain in the locker room during the anthem once the season starts?

Under the policy, they are allowed to do so without penalty. But if owners hoped that they could eliminate the issue simply by avoiding the visual of kneeling during the anthem, it appears they are mistaken.

Is it possible that owners could change the policy again, before the season starts?

We can rule nothing out, but it would go counter to every way the league operates on major policies. It took more than a year for owners to agree on the new protocol. The only conceivable shift would be to eliminate the locker room option and state, simply, that all players must be on the field and stand at attention.

But a consensus along those lines might be out of reach. A sizable group of owners, large enough to block the 24 votes required, do not want to muzzle players entirely. It's worth noting that, according to The New York Times, Lurie made some negative comments about Trump during a private owners meeting last fall.

The NFL's next quarterly owners meeting will take place in October, but the issue could also be addressed through less formal gatherings and conference calls.

What will the NFL do? Ride it out?

For now, at least, it's probably the owners' only option. It might be more constructive for the NFL to strategize on how best to deal with Trump's criticism rather than try to eliminate it.