The players were not kneeling in protest. They were kneeling in prayer.
Fox News was widely rebuked for airing misleading photos of Philadelphia Eagles players in a story about President Donald Trump's last-minute move to cancel the Super Bowl champions' visit to the White House and instead host military musicians who will play the National Anthem.
Late Monday, Fox News @ Night aired a segment about Trump's decision—an obvious jab at professional athletes who have recently protested racial injustice by kneeling during the anthem—that included a series of photos showing several Eagles players kneeling, which suggested that they participated in the protests.
However, as activist and journalist Shaun King—a vocal supporter of the #TakeAKnee movement—and several others have pointed out, no Eagles players knelt in protest during last year's regular season. CNN noted that cornerback Ron Brooks took a knee during a preseason game last August, but "was later released by the team, and did not play for the Eagles in the regular season."
Tight end Zach Ertz, one of the Eagles in the photos, responded sharply on Twitter, denouncing the Fox story as "propaganda" and emphasizing that he was kneeling to pray "well before" the anthem was played.
This can’t be serious.... Praying before games with my teammates, well before the anthem, is being used for your propaganda?! Just sad, I feel like you guys should have to be better than this... https://t.co/kYeyH2zXdK
— Zach Ertz (@ZERTZ_86) June 5, 2018
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"This is some deeply racist and ill-intentioned garbage," Jared Yates Sexton, a politics writer for Salon, said of the network's decision to use the photos. Charlie Lindlar, an editor at The Huffington Post UK, remarked, "Astonishing dishonesty here, even for Fox News."
Defensive end Chris Long also slammed the network, tweeting, "You're complicit in PLAYING America."
You’re complicit in PLAYING America. This is just another day at the office for you, though. Most players (and there were many players, many players...) that wanted to opt out had decided long b4 the anthem rule came down. It wasn’t discussed once in our meetings about the visit.
— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) June 5, 2018
Fox has removed the segment from its Twitter account. The show's executive producer has released a statement acknowledging that "no members of the team knelt in protest during the national anthem throughout regular or post-season last year" and apologizing for "the error."
The controversy comes amid widespread frustration among fans and athletes about a recent decision by the National Football League (NFL) team owners to impose fines on teams if any player takes a knee during the anthem for future seasons. That policy has been denounced as an "un-American" attack on First Amendment rights by a "group of aged billionaires."