Pence leaves Colts game after visiting 49ers kneel during anthem

May reignite firestorm started by Trump
Vice President Mike Pence.
Vice President Mike Pence.

Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an NFL game in his home state of Indiana on Sunday after nearly two dozen players on the visiting San Francisco 49ers knelt during the playing of the national anthem.

Pence wrote on Twitter after the Indianapolis Colts and 49ers had begun their game:

Pence’s departure, which he documented in a series of tweets, may reignite a firestorm started by President Donald Trump, who said last month that any “son of a bitch” who refused to stand for the anthem should be “fired.” His comments led hundreds of players to protest during the anthem.

Pence appeared to be following orders. In a tweet on Sunday, Trump said:

A pool reporter traveling with the vice president had asked to accompany him into the stadium but was told to remain in a van outside because the vice president might leave the game early. And minutes after his departure, the vice president’s office issued a statement explaining his decision.

Pence’s spokeswoman declined to answer a question about whether the vice president had planned to leave the game. But his office’s quick statement, followed by a photo of the vice president at the game that his aides released, left little doubt that Pence had considered the possibility of leaving.

In his statement, Pence said:

Pence’s statement was issued less than two hours after he posted a photo of himself and his wife on Twitter wearing Colts gear.

He said he was there to honor Peyton Manning, the longtime Colts quarterback whose statue was unveiled in Indianapolis this weekend, and who was set to have his number retired into the team’s ring of honor at halftime.

The vice president’s time in Indiana on Sunday was brief. He had flown in earlier in the day in from Nevada and then left for California after departing the game.

Most players at NFL games have returned to standing during the anthem. Handfuls of players, though, continue to kneel, especially on the 49ers. The protests began last year when the former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the anthem to draw attention to to racial oppression of African-Americans, particularly police brutality.

But just as they did last week, the 49ers had 20 or more players kneeling during the anthem in solidarity with their former teammate, Kaepernick. The Colts had a demonstration of their own, 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.

After several tweets explaining his reason for leaving, Pence posted a photo of himself and his wife standing during the anthem, with a member of the military next to them.

An NFL spokesman had no comment on Pence’s statement.

While many 49ers knelt, the Colts locked arms as a team on Sunday. The teams also established a fund to support charities working to promote equality and relationships between law enforcement and the community.

In Detroit, the Lions stood arm in arm, including two players who had knelt the past two weeks.

In New Jersey, New York Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon, who was in street clothes, knelt while the rest of his team linked arms.

In Miami, three members of the Dolphins — Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas and Mike Thomas — stayed in the locker room while the rest of their team stood on the sideline during the anthem.

The Dolphins’ owner, Stephen M. Ross, who has backed the players’ right to protest, appeared to be changing his stance. He told the Miami Herald that while many players insisted that their protests are about raising awareness of social injustice, the president had “changed that whole paradigm of what protest is” by turning it into a proxy for respect for the flag and support of the military.

Kaepernick, meanwhile, remains unsigned after opting out of his long-term contract in March, though it was widely believed he was simply beating the team to the punch, as they were expected to release him.

According to a CBS report, the 29-year-old quarterback, who had 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions last season, has been working out privately in New Jersey in hopes of finding a team willing to take a chance on him. His inability to find a new team has led many players to speculate that his kneeling for the national anthem last season caused too large of a distraction for team owners to tolerate.

Though Kaepernick led San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance after the 2012 season — and had one of his best statistical seasons last year despite his 1-10 record as a starter — other teams chose to sign quarterbacks with less impressive statistics.

Categories: News

Leave a Reply