Dear Mr. President,

I'm writing you this letter because we were once friends and I've watched with deep disappointment how, in your little more than 500 days as president, your actions have made a divided nation even more divided and more polarized. I am writing to tell you that in your recent episode with the Philadelphia Eagles you blew an incredibly easy opportunity to look good by being a president who understands what is great about this country. And also to tell you that, to use football parlance, you still have a chance to pull it out by throwing a "Hail Mary."

When I was mayor of Philadelphia, you accepted my invitation to join us at our first Welcome America for Boxing Night. We then went to a Flyers vs. Rangers hockey game, and I think it's fair to say we became friends. When I ran for governor of Pennsylvania, you generously supported my campaign, and years later, I was one of only three politicians to be invited to Ivanka's wedding. (Judge Rendell and I were there with Bill and Hillary Clinton – surprise! – and Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida.)

Then you ran for president and one day in fall 2015 in my job as an analyst for NBC, I mistakenly made light of your candidacy and your chance to win. You called me the next day, screamed at me, and told me that Melania came to you and was brokenhearted saying, "How would Eddie do that to you?" I thought it was a little odd that it was Melania who saw me on TV because I had appeared on the Al Sharpton show and I thought the odds of Melania having watched Sharpton were as likely as Philadelphia receiving a massive snowfall in July. In fact, our friendship was such that when my book, A Nation of Wusses, was published in 2012 it contained the words, "As my friend Donald Trump points out, the Chinese are pushing us around without fear of reprisal." So, you should have put tariffs on Chinese goods, not on our friends and allies.

In any event, back to the Eagles. The facts remain a little bit murky to all of us here in Philadelphia. We have learned that the Eagles originally sent a list of 80 names down to the White House as potential visitors to celebrate our amazing Super Bowl victory. But shortly thereafter, the Eagles asked for the date to be rescheduled. That didn't happen, and the next thing we learned was when you tweeted out the following:

The Philadelphia Eagles Football Team was invited to the White House. Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event. Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!

This tweet seems a little confusing. Did you cancel the event because "only a small number of players decided to come" or, as you said later, did you cancel it because, "Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling." If it was the second reason, your staff did horrible work in briefing you because none of the Eagles ever knelt during the anthem during the entire regular season. Your official government mouthpiece, Fox News, showed a picture of several Eagles kneeling, but they later had to apologize because that was at the end of the game and they were all kneeling to pray and give thanks that no one got seriously injured during the game.

If it was the first reason, you also made a mistake because Carson Wentz, the face of our franchise, and Doug Pederson, our heroic coach, were among those attending and you could have had a good time congratulating them and hearing the roar of a thousand grateful Eagles fans who you had also invited. And besides, truth be told, only 34 New England Patriots came to the White House in 2017, your first year as president. That's less than half of the players and coaches and their star, Tom Brady, also chose not to attend. That was significantly less than the number of Patriots who came to the White House in 2015 to see President Obama. But you didn't cancel their visit.

More importantly, you could have turned this event into a historic victory for not only you as a politician but for the country if, knowing how many of the Eagles feel about what has been going on with the criminal-justice system, you invited the team to the White House first to meet with you for an hour in private to discuss their concerns with the way our criminal-justice system works and then had the press conference. If you had done that, my guess is that over 90 percent of the Eagles would have shown up. By doing this, you would have taken a giant step toward bringing us together as a nation and ending this feud you have with concerned professional athletes who are exercising their constitutional right to protest. In fact, you used the whole cancellation to score "political points" with your base. I heard a disquieting rumor that you intend to keep this feud with the NFL players going all the way up to this November's election because you think it scores you points (and you're probably right). But scoring political points by continuing to divide this country is the wrong thing to do. Leaders have to be bigger than that. Leaders have to set an example. Leaders have to try to bring us together.

But as I said, all is not lost. It's time for a Hail Mary. Give an open invitation to any NFL player who protested the criminal-justice system during the season to come meet with you in the White House in private for 90 minutes and listen to their concerns. You will definitely learn something, and it may motivate you to take action. In any event, it will be a step in the direction of ending this silly feud and maybe beginning to bring us together.

Sincerely,

Ed Rendell