Pence leaves NFL game after players kneel during anthem

2017 10 08T174954Z 2 LYNXMPED970L3 RTROPTP 0 LASVEGAS SHOOTING 1 - Pence leaves NFL game after players kneel during anthem
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks in Las Vegas City Hall following a Unity Prayer Walk in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

October 8, 2017

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence walked out of a National Football League game on Sunday in his home state of Indiana after some players knelt during the national anthem, a form of demonstration that began last year as a symbolic protest about police violence against racial minorities.

Pence was attending a game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers. Some players from the 49ers kneeled during the Star Spangled Banner, while some Colts wore black T-shirts with the words “We Will” on the front and “Stand for equality, justice, unity, respect, dialogue, opportunity” on the back. The players stood with their arms locked during the anthem, according to media reports.

“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,” Pence said in a statement issued by the White House.

President Donald Trump has criticized players sharply for the protests and pressed the NFL to ban them. He said in a tweet on Sunday that he asked Pence to leave the stadium “if any player kneeled, disrespecting our country.” He said he was proud of Pence and his wife, Karen.

The right to participate in such a protest is protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. The NFL declined to comment, said spokesman Brian McCarthy.

Critics of players kneeling at the pre-game playing of the national anthem, including Trump, object to any protest, regardless of its merits, during a ceremony meant to honor the U.S. flag and military veterans.

Pence, who has gone out of his way to demonstrate loyalty to Trump, said in his statement it was important to rally around the flag and things that unite the country.

Less than an hour after issuing Pence’s statement, the White House released a picture of him and his wife at the stadium where the game took place, standing with hands over their hearts during the performance of the national anthem.

“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 said. “I stand with President Trump, I stand with our soldiers, and I will always stand for our Flag and our National Anthem.”

(additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker)

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