Vice President Mike Pence, the former governor of Indiana, was at Lucas Oil Stadium as Sunday’s game began, but he didn’t last long.
Pence departed as the game was beginning after more than 20 members of the 49ers knelt during the national anthem before their game against the Indianapolis Colts. The protests have been a major gripe for President Donald Trump in recent weeks, and Pence followed his boss’ lead.
“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 wrote on Twitter.
A few minutes later, he added, “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 also quickly posted a statement, suggesting he was anticipating the 49ers’ stance.
Safety Eric Reid, who has knelt for every regular-season game this season, said the vice president’s reaction was a “PR stunt.” Reid began kneeling with Colin Kaepernick in August 2016 as a way to spotlight racial injustices in the United States.
“It’s really disheartening when ... the vice president of the United States is trying to confuse the message that we’re trying to put out there,” Reid said. “This is about systemic oppression that has been rampant in this country decades upon decades. And I will continue to encourage people to educate themselves on how we got to where we are today, because it didn’t happen overnight and it’s not going to happen overnight to fix these issues. So we’re going to keep talking about it.”
Last week the 49ers organized a team-wide gesture, one in which 30 players knelt during the anthem, one hand over their hearts, while teammates stood behind them with one hand on the kneeling players’ shoulders and the other over their hearts.
Sunday’s stance appeared less organized, but at least 20 players took a knee while a few others were behind them with hands on their shoulders. All of the Colts players appeared to stand during the anthem.