Vice President Mike Pence further fueled the row over NFL anti-racism protests today by walking out of a game in protest between the San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts after players took a knee during the national anthem.
The vice president immediately tweeted half a dozen times about it and released a statement, and President Donald Trump tweeted his support for the anti-protest protest. In contrast, both have yet to say a word about the previous night’s white supremacist torch rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
During the national anthem at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indiana, the Colts players linked arms, while wearing black T-shirts proclaiming they stood for justice and equality. Around 20 players from the 49ers followed their former teammate Colin Kaepernick’s example and took a knee, according to ESPN.
Pence, a former governor of Indiana, said in a statement on Twitter that he would not “dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.” He failed to say anything about how a white supremacist rally might disrespect national values.
“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 the Flag and everything that unites us,” Pence said, adding that “everyone was entitled to their own opinions.”
Unlike the players’ protest, Pence’s protest would garner expenses for taxpayers: the stadium dramatically beefed up stadium security to accommodate the vice president, the second lady, and their entourage, who are routinely accompanied by their own Secret Service detail and heightened security services by local law enforcement.
It also appears Pence may have flown in — presumably at taxpayers’ expense — just to stage the public demonstration.
Pence’s public protest was planned in advance: in addition to Trump’s tweet that he asked the VP to stage a walkout, officials reportedly hinted to the White House pool that the visit to the game would be a short one and that reporters should hang back for expediency’s sake. (The average NFL game lasts longer than 3 hours).
The NFL protest began last summer when former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting, and later kneeling, during the national anthem as a way to bring attention to the police brutality and systemic racism that blights African American communities. Furor around the protests reached a fever-pitch last month, when Trump said that he hoped “any sons of bitches” who knelt during the anthem would get fired.
“Wouldn’t you just love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He is fired. He’s fired!,” Trump said during a rally in Alabama last month.
Conservative commentators and pundits have maintained that kneeling is a mark of disrespect to veterans who have given their lives to protect the United States. However, several veterans ThinkProgress talked to said that taking a knee was an effective way to raise awareness while also honoring the troops’ sacrifices.
“The protest is about saying no to injustice, inequality and police brutality,” Army veteran Glennis Carter said. “When Kaepernick began it he wasn’t protesting the flag or the anthem, he was standing up for victims.”
She pointed to the fact that taking a knee was a copy of the mark of respect soldiers make to a fallen comrade.