WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence walked out of the Indianapolis Colts game Sunday and said he won’t “dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our national anthem” in an apparent reaction to members of the visiting San Francisco 49ers who kneeled before the game.
President Donald Trump followed up with a tweet of approval and said he asked Pence to leave the game.
Players who choose not to stand during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” have said they do so to protest racial and social injustice in the United States.
The vice president’s act followed numerous recent tweets and statements by Trump condemning NFL players who do not stand during the anthem.
“At a time when so many Americans are inspiring our nation with their courage, resolve, and resilience, now, more than ever, we should rally around our Flag and everything that unites us,” Pence said in a statement posted to Twitter. “While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our national anthem.”
Trump tweeted shortly afterward: “I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.”
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling last year in what he said was a demonstration against the country’s oppression of people of color. Other athletes have taken similar action to draw attention to police brutality and other issues. Those who participate have been predominantly black.
Eric Reid, a 49ers safety, said of Pence’s exit: “This was like a PR stunt. This is what systemic oppression looks like”
Pence, a former Indiana governor, was attending the game in his home state. Former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning’s number was to be retired at the game.
According to local sports reporters, the Colts stood during the national anthem, arm-in-arm, while some 49ers kneeled.
Trump has approved of a standing demonstration as an act of unity. NFL team owners and coaches have joined in recent weeks with the players in linking arms. But the president has harshly criticized those who kneel.
In a Sept. 22 speech in Alabama, he called them a “son of a . . . [expletive].” He has subsequently called on football fans to stop supporting the league and the NFL to institute a rule mandating that players stand for the anthem.
Pence is a noted sports fan and this is the second major event he’s attended in his home state since taking office in January. He also attended May’s Indianapolis 500, a family tradition.
But Pence couldn’t go to the unveiling of a statue of Manning Saturday afternoon, which was attended by a number of luminaries including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Instead, Pence spent most of Saturday honoring victims of the Las Vegas shooting before returning to Indiana.
— With AP