Looks like protests during football games are OK — as long as it’s not the players doing the protesting. Vice President Mike Pence left a football game on Sunday, Oct. 8, after players from the San Francisco 49ers knelt on the field during the national anthem. Pence, the former governor of Indiana, was attending their game against the Indianapolis Colts.
At least 15 players from the 49ers knelt on the field during the national anthem, according to USA Today, while players from the Colts stood arm-in-arm.
On Twitter, the vice president explained his decision to leave the game, saying that he walked out because he, along with President Donald Trump, "will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flags, or our National Anthem." In follow up tweets, he wrote,
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.
Pence's protest of the protests came after Trump asked him to leave should any players kneel during the national anthem, according to the president's Twitter account. Trump tweeted out shortly after Pence's explanation that he had asked the vice president to leave the stadium if any players kneeled, "disrespecting our country."
Pence also released a statement on the departure via Twitter, in which he said that he "stand[s] with President Trump."
Over the last few weeks, the president has caused uproar by picking fights over protests during NFL football games. In late September, President Trump called for the NFL to fire players who protested during football games. On Sept. 22, the president said that NFL team owners should fire any "son of a b*tch" who knelt during the anthem at an Alabama rally for Senate candidate Luther Strange.
In a series of early morning tweets on Sept. 24, Trump suggested football fans should boycott NFL games as long as players continued to protest during the anthem.
The tweets seemed to be in response to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who made headlines in 2016 for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial bias. Though some athletes joined him, the protest, overall, remained small.
But in the days and weeks after Trump positioned himself against the protest, it took off in a way it never had before. Around 150 players knelt, sat, or raised fists during the national anthem over that weekend in response to Trump's comments, and the protests continued on into the following week. By the season's week five, the protests are slowing down, but definitely not gone.
On social media, some called out the incident as a publicity stunt.
Many criticized the VP for walking out because of a protest that pretty much everyone knew was coming, particularly considering the possible cost of the trip. Seriously, 30 of 49ers players took a knee last week, it was pretty darn clear that it was going to happen this week.
And there's more.
The criticism was helped along when people started pointing out that the photo that Pence had tweeted earlier in the day about being excited to see the Colts game looked... well... pretty familiar.
Come on, Mike. You could at least pretend to have put in the effort to troll convincingly. Seriously. You weren't even wearing a jersey today.
But overall, good job using your prominent position at a major league football game to peacefully call attention to a contentious issue in American society. It was well done. In fact, it's almost like you learned it from someone.