How did the Eagles end up being denounced Tuesday by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for what she termed a "political stunt," after the team decided to send fewer than 10 representatives to a planned celebration of the Super Bowl title with President Trump?
Trying to piece together what happened, how the Eagles accepted an invitation to the White House last month and then found themselves disinvited the night before the event, was not easy during Wednesday's 40-minute locker room availability.
The locker room was the only place one could look for answers, since team chairman Jeffery Lurie has not been available to discuss what happened and the organization clearly wants to see if it can move past the controversy without ever mentioning Trump's name again. The Eagles have responded to all follow-up questions about the canceled visit by saying they will stick with their statement from Monday night, which talked about how great it was to win the Super Bowl but did not mention Trump or the White House.
It seems pretty clear that something dramatic happened on the Eagles' end Monday, when the guest list shrank.
Right guard Brandon Brooks said it wasn't that the team changed its mind, it was that before Monday, no one was sure who would go, no clear picture evolved until the eve of the visit – even though, according to linebacker Nigel Bradham, management was trying to get a head count May 29.
"It was just ongoing discussions until we decided to go with, like, the committee deal," said Brooks, who wouldn't say whether he had planned to go. "That was the decision we came to as a team, and that was what we were going to do. It's no stunt, or anything like that."
Sanders said the Eagles submitted a guest list with 81 names, including players, coaches, and staff, then tried to change the date, then on Monday submitted the revised number. Some reports have indicated that quarterback Nick Foles might have been the only player on the revised list. Foles was not in the locker room Wednesday when reporters were present.
Brooks said he wasn't aware of any large contingent of players ever definitely confirming participation.
"As far as I know, we were just discussing back and forth what we were going to do. I don't believe there was any type of decision that was being handed down before that," he said.
Brooks said that all along, discussions were informal. Another player said no formal vote was ever taken. No one wanted to explain exactly how the "small group" decision was made.
"We were in the auditorium and it was just being talked about. Nothing was set in stone … we were discussing it, trying to figure out what we wanted to do," Brooks said. "The day [the decision to rescind the invitation] came out was when we decided to send like a little committee up there, type of deal, just brainstorming, going back and forth."
Tight end Zach Ertz said he didn't know when or how the White House got its initial count.
"I don't know exactly how they got word. I'm not in charge of making those decisions," Ertz said. "I don't know if I was a part of that contingent. I don't know who was going, who was not going. I just found out Monday that no one was going, and that was that. … Everyone found out on Monday, and we were moving on to the next day."
Like Brooks, Ertz said he thought nothing was definite regarding the players until Monday.
"I think there was a lot of discussion, from the White House and the Eagles, trying to just formulate a plan. I wasn't involved in those discussions," Ertz said. "They were leaving it up to the players, I think. Up until we got news that it wasn't going to happen. The decision [to send a small group] was made Monday evening, and that's when we heard about the [White House's] final decision. We were planning on practicing on Tuesday after that, and we had a great practice."
Eagles coach Doug Pederson made it clear he had planned to go, when Pederson spoke with reporters just before Wednesday's OTA work.
"I was looking forward to going down, obviously. We did something last season that is very special. It's a milestone here in the city of Philadelphia, our organization, and I was looking forward to going down and being recognized as world champions," Pederson said. "It is what it is. We're here today."
One thing is clear: The Eagles, with a host of players who are focused on helping minority communities, and an owner who is said to have called Trump's presidency "disastrous" in a meeting with players last year over the national anthem protests Trump has denounced, were never a great fit for such a celebration. When the topic was first raised, in the days following Super Bowl LII, players such as safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive end Chris Long declared they had no interest in a Trump photo op.
The topic of a White House visit was raised with Lurie at the NFL meetings in March in Orlando, and the owner's discomfort was obvious.
"We just won the Super Bowl," Lurie said. "I haven't had any of those discussions. I have no idea. It's just … I haven't had those discussions."
Reporters came away thinking it was unlikely the Trump White House would invite the Eagles, and unlikely they would accept. Somehow, those things happened – the New York Times reported on April 23 that discussions were underway, and on May 22, the Eagles confirmed that they had agreed to go, and that the visit was scheduled for June 5.
Quarterback Carson Wentz said then that "if most guys want to go" he would as well, and then said: "I will be involved in going. The rest of the details will be coming out soon."
But those details – of community and school visits the team apparently planned for Tuesday – never were made public, until everything was canceled.
This is a team that stresses togetherness, considers unity the backbone of its success. If key players, such as Jenkins and Long, were never going to go, were adamantly opposed to going, it seems fair to wonder how management ever thought this was going to work. A source close to the situation said Wednesday that the Eagles "should have said no weeks ago."