Vice President Mike Pence said he left Sunday's Indianapolis Colts game after several players from the San Francisco 49ers chose to kneel during the national anthem. But one of those players thinks Pence was planning to leave and that it was all a public relations ploy.
"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," Pence, the former Indiana governor, wrote in a tweet.
"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. I stand with President Trump, I stand with our soldiers, and I will always stand for our Flag and our National Anthem," wrote Pence.
I stand with @POTUS Trump, I stand with our soldiers, and I will always stand for our Flag and our National Anthem. pic.twitter.com/B0zP5M41MQ — Vice President Pence (@VP) October 8, 2017
We were proud to stand - with all our @Colts - for our soldiers, our flag, and our National Anthem 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/mkZiKMkPDD — Vice President Pence (@VP) October 8, 2017
President Trump has called on NFL owners to fire players who don't stand for the anthem and urged fans to boycott games in a series of tweets after he first criticized the demonstrations during a Sept. 22 rally in Alabama. White House officials have viewed it as a winning issue for the president, who has sought to remain closely connected to his working-class base of Midwestern voters who helped elect him.
Trump wrote that he requested Pence leave if any players kneeled. At least 15 players from the 49ers did so. Colts players stood arm-in-arm.
I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2017
49ers safety Eric Reid says he believes Pence leaving was a public relations stunt and that he intended to leave knowing there likely would be 49ers players kneeling.
Statement by @E_Reid35 regarding the Vice President's brief appearance at the game. "This is what systemic oppression looks like." pic.twitter.com/Aoy2GWons2 — Jennifer Lee Chan (@jenniferleechan) October 8, 2017
"My honest reaction … Does anybody know the last time he’s been to a football game?” Reid said on a video posted by Jennifer Lee Chan of Niners Nation. “With that being said, he tweeted out a three-year old photo of him at a Colts game."
Pence tweeted earlier in the day that he was looking forward to the day's festivities, which included honoring former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
Looking forward to cheering for our @Colts & honoring the great career of #18 Peyton Manning at @LucasOilStadium today. Go Colts! pic.twitter.com/C3aCYUNpqG — Vice President Pence (@VP) October 8, 2017
"So with the information I have the last time he was at a Colts game was three years ago," Reid continued. "So this looks like a PR stunt to me. He knew our team has had the most players protest. He knew that we were probably going to do it again. This is what systemic oppression looks like. A man with power comes to the game, tweets a couple of things out and leaves the game with an attempt to thwart our efforts. Based on the information I have, that’s the assumption I’ve made."
Former Seahawk Russell Okung concurred on Twitter.
Ultimate PR stunt. Try again. https://t.co/AKnpE5evzh— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) October 8, 2017
Last week approximately 30 players from the 49ers kneeled in their first game since Trump called for players who protest to be fired. Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked the protests last year when he chose not to stand last year to speak out against racial inequality and police brutality.
Elsewhere in the NFL, many teams opted not to continue the protests. After having players kneel last week, both the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills all stood for the anthem before their games.
For the first time this season, all Seattle Seahawks players stood for the anthem. Defensive end Michael Bennett sat since the first preseason game, and nine players sat last week. Defensive end Frank Clark said after the game the team chose to remain standing in solidarity for the victims of last week's massacre in Las Vegas.
On Sunday night, Dallas owner Jerry Jones said the NFL can't leave the impression that it tolerates players disrespecting the flag and that any of his Cowboys making such displays won't play.
Responding to a question about Pence leaving the game in Indianapolis, Jones said after the Cowboys' 35-31 home loss to Green Bay that the league can't "in any way give the implication that we tolerate disrespecting the flag." Of his own players, the Hall of Famer said, "If we are disrespecting the flag, then we won't play. Period."
The Cowboys knelt arm-in-arm before the national anthem when they played at Arizona two weeks ago. Players, coaches and others, including Jones and his family, were among those in the line. All of them stood during the anthem, with arms still locked.
The NFL players' union said in a statement Sunday night that discussions about issues by the league's players should not be stifled.
"NFL players are union members and part of the labor movement that has woven the fabric of America for generations," the NFLPA's statement read. "Our men and their families are also conscientious Americans who continue to be forces for good through our communities and some have decided to use their platform to peacefully raise awareness to issues that deserve attention. It is a source of enormous pride that some of the best conversations about these issues have taken place in our locker rooms in a respectful, civil and thoughtful way that should serve as a model for how all of us can communicate with each other.
"We should not stifle these discussions and cannot allow our rights to become subservient to the very opinions our Constitution protects. That is what makes us the land of the free and home of the brave."
Retired announcer Brent Musburger joined the fray on Twitter on Sunday night.
"Yo #49ers Since you instigated protest, 2 wins and 19 losses. How about taking your next knee in the other team's end zone?" Musburger posted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.