INDIANAPOLIS (CBS/AP) — Vice President Mike Pence has left the 49ers-Colts game after about a dozen San Francisco players took a knee during the national anthem.
The former Indiana governor flew in so he could watch Peyton Manning’s jersey retirement ceremony on Sunday. But Pence didn’t stick around long.
Pence said on Twitter: “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.”
The White House also issued a statement from Pence, in which he says Americans should rally around the flag. Pence said: “I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem.”
Pence later tweeted, “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.
He added, “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.”
San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid said Pence’s departure looked like “a PR stunt.”
“He knew our team has had the most players protest, he knew that we were probably going to do it again,” Reid said. “This is what systemic oppression looks like: man with power comes to the game, tweets a couple things out and leaves the game in an attempt to thwart our efforts.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy declined to comment on Pence’s walkout. The Colts also had no comment, and after their 26-23 overtime victory, Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano steered clear of the issue.
“No,” Pagano said when asked if he had any reaction to what Pence did.
Colts players stood in unison, locking arms but standing throughout the anthem.
But the 49ers have been among the most visible protesters in the league. Last year, former quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement to kneel or sit during the anthem, and Reid and other teammates backed him up on and off the field.
Aides to the vice president did not respond to questions on whether he had planned to make the public walk-out in the game against the 49ers, who have regularly held the demonstrations. Pence’s trip to Las Vegas and Indianapolis was announced on Friday.
After leaving the game, Pence departed Indianapolis for a three-day trip to California that includes three fundraisers and an event on the president’s push for a tax overhaul.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the NFL and its players for those who participated in silent protest by kneeling during the national anthem, taking aim at top professional athletes in comments that brought swift condemnation from league executives and star players.
Mr. Trump mostbecause they’re “afraid” of their players.
“Well, I have so many friends that are owners. And they’re in a box. I mean I’ve spoken to a couple of them. They say, we are in a situation where we have to do something. I think they’re afraid of their players, you want to know the truth. And I think it’s disgraceful,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with FOX News Channel’s FOX & Friends.
Mr. Trump also repeated his call for a new rule forcing players to stand while the national anthem played.
“They have rules for everything,” he said. “Why aren’t they honoring this country by enforcing a rule that’s been in existence for a long time? So the NFL and the players really have to do the honor of the country. It’s for the honor of the country. They have to respect our country. They have to respect our flag and our anthem.”
The White House has defended Mr. Trump’s comments and tweets, with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling reporters, “I think that it’s always appropriate for the president of the United States to defend our flag, to defend the national anthem and to the defend the men and women who fought and died to defend it.”
Pence had arrived to the game earlier on Sunday with his wife Karen Pence, tweeting that the two looked forward to “honoring the great career of #18 Peyton Manning.” The Colts were retiring the former quarterback’s jersey at the game and had recently unveiled a new statue of the player outside Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.
The president tweeted after Pence’s departure, saying that he had “asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country.” He added that he was “proud” of him and Karen.
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