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Vice President Mike Pence Left an NFL Game When Players Knelt During the Anthem

October 8, 2017, 6:55 PM UTC

Vice President Mike Pence left an Indianapolis Colts game because members of the opposing San Francisco 49ers knelt during the National Anthem.

Pence tweeted about his departure and reiterated his support for President Donald Trump’s combative stance on the kneeling protests, which swept the NFL last month.

“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 wrote in a series of tweets about his decision to leave Sunday’s game.

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The player protests, which were started last year by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, are intended to draw attention to systematic police violence against black Americans. Pence, like Trump and other opponents, interpreted them instead as a sign of disrespect for soldiers and American political symbols like the flag.

Though members of Pence’s home-state Colts stood during the anthem, they followed many other teams in striking a symbolic compromise. According to ESPN, the Colts wore black t-shirts affirming a commitment to “equality, justice, unity, respect, dialogue, and opportunity,” and stood with arms locked during the anthem, rather than with the traditionally reverent hand-on-heart gesture. More than a dozen 49ers players knelt during the anthem, with their hands over their hearts, according to ESPN.

Despite the complexity of those gestures, Pence’s tweets implied that the opposing 49ers alone were failing to show sufficient respect.

Pence’s gesture adds fuel to a war of words kicked off by the president himself in late September, with an emphasis on nationalist rhetoric and symbolism that plays squarely to the Trump base. Trump tweeted his support of Pence’s decision to leave the game Sunday, saying he was “proud.”

The controversy also poses a threat to the NFL and its broadcasters. Ratings for games this season have continued to slump, though the protests are only one factor in that decline.