Vice President Mike Pence walked out of the game between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers, citing his displeasure with players kneeling during the national anthem at the event.
Pence issued a statement on his departure: “I left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National 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. 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. I stand with President Trump, I stand with our soldiers, and I will always stand for our Flag and our National Anthem.”
I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.
— Vice President Pence (@VP) October 8, 2017
Pence was at the game to honor former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who had a statue of himself unveiled in Indianapolis and was set to have his number retired during half-time ceremonies to induct him into the team’s ring of honor.
Those plans went awry when the 49ers had at least 20 players kneeling during the national anthem. The Colts also demonstrated, with players wearing black t-shirts that said “We Will” on the front and “Stand for equality, justice, unity, respect, dialogue, opportunity” on the back.
Pence tweeted his disgust at the protest at 1:08 PM, minutes after the anthem was played. Earlier, a happier Pence tweeted several photos wearing Colts gear. He later tweeted a photo of himself and his wife standing during the anthem.
The controversy again fanned the flames of the dispute between the administration and NFL players, which started when President Donald Trump called on the players who kneel to be fired by their teams. He also referred to them as “sons of bitches,” which angered many.
Elsewhere, NFL national anthem protests – or, at least, media coverage of them – appeared to calm down for this week’s games. Instead, protests have filtered down, with college and high school football teams doing anthem protests, and even the first NHL raised fist anthem protest arising.
For the NFL, perhaps players are paying attention – one poll indicated the NFL’s popularity is dropping among hard-core fans, and some TV ratings are down. While ticket sales appear to be holding (a sunk cost, since they were purchased before the season), it’s clear that support for anthem protests is at least hurting perceptions among certain fans.
It could also be that a quiet directive has gone out to the league. This week, a second meeting on protest issues brought together Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA president Eric Winston, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Steelers owner Art Rooney, Giants owner John Mara. The result was “a productive conversation,” according to a report.
Earlier on Sunday, Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross stated to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper that he wished his players would stand during the anthem. The Dolphins had three players kneel last week. Ross claimed President Donald Trump had made the issue about patriotism rather than social injustice, so it’s better for players to stand. “And I think it’s incumbent upon the players today, because of how the public is looking at it, to really stand and really salute the flag.” He added: “Whenever you’re dealing with the flag you’re dealing with something different.”
The three Dolphins who kneeled last week were not on the field during the anthem, jogging out after its conclusion.
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