Earlier, Pence walked out of the game between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers, citing his displeasure with players kneeling during the national anthem at the event.
Pence issued a statement on his departure: “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. 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.”
President Trump tweeted:
Pence also tweeted similar sentiments:
Pence was at the game to honor former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who had a statue of himself unveiled in Indianapolis and was set to have his number retired during half-time ceremonies to induct him into the team’s ring of honor.
Those plans went awry when the 49ers had at least 20 players kneeling during the national anthem, backed by teammates who put hands on their shoulders in solidarity. In the pre-game, the Colts also demonstrated, with players wearing black t-shirts that said “We Will” on the front and “Stand for equality, justice, unity, respect, dialogue, opportunity” on the back. When in full uniform during the anthem, all Colts players stood with arms locked.
Pence tweeted his disgust at the protest at 1:08 PM, minutes after the anthem was played. Earlier, a happier Pence tweeted several photos wearing Colts gear. He later tweeted a photo of himself and his wife standing during the anthem.
The controversy again fanned the flames of the dispute between the administration and NFL players, which started when President Donald Trump called on the players who kneel to be fired by their teams. He also referred to them as “sons of bitches,” which angered many.
Elsewhere, NFL national anthem protests – or, at least, media coverage of them – appeared to calm down for this week’s games. Instead, protests have filtered down, with college and high school football teams doing anthem protests, and even the first NHL raised-fist anthem protest arising.
For the NFL, perhaps players are paying attention – one poll indicated the NFL’s popularity is dropping among hard-core fans, and some TV ratings are down. While ticket sales appear to be holding (a sunk cost, since they were purchased before the season), it’s clear that support for anthem protests is at least hurting perceptions among certain fans.
Even the man who sparked the protests by being the first to take a knee during the anthem – former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick – appears to be having second thoughts. In an interview with CBS Sports, Kaepernick said he just wants to be judged as a football player. He is currently out of the league and said he will go anywhere to work out for an NFL team.
It could also be that a quiet directive has gone out to the league regarding protest. This week, a second meeting on protest issues brought together Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA president Eric Winston, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Steelers owner Art Rooney, and Giants owner John Mara. The result was “a productive conversation,” according to a report.
Earlier on Sunday, Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross stated to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper that he wished his players would stand during the anthem. The Dolphins had three players – Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas and Mike Thomas – who have taken knees. Ross claimed President Donald Trump had made the issue about patriotism rather than social injustice, so it’s better for players to stand. “And I think it’s incumbent upon the players today, because of how the public is looking at it, to really stand and really salute the flag.” He added: “Whenever you’re dealing with the flag you’re dealing with something different.”
Stills, Julius Thomas and Mike Thomas were not on the field during the anthem, jogging out after its conclusion. For their opponents, the Tennessee Titans, all players remained standing during the anthem. However, wide receiver Rishard Matthews remained in the locker room for the second straight week.
The Buffalo Bills all stood for the anthem, a reversal of last week’s protest, when six Bills took a knee. Their opponents, the Cincinnati Bengals, also had all team members standing.
All of the New York Jets players and coaches stood and locked arms during the national anthem. Their opponents, the Cleveland Browns, also stood, and some players locked arms. The Cleveland stadium also played a video promoting unity.
In Philadelphia, safety Malcolm Jenkins continued his demonstrations during the anthem, raising his fist above his ahead during the song. He was joined by safety Rodney McLeod, who also raised a fist, and defensive end Chris Long, who placed an arm around Jenkins in solidarity while remaining standing.
New York Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon also protested at his game, even though he wasn’t playing because of a sprained ankle. Vernon knelt during the anthem, repeating a gesture he had performed for the last two weeks. Linebacker Keenan Robinson raised his fist during the anthem, but the rest of the Giants stood with locked arms. All members of the Los Angeles Chargers, their opponents, stood. That was a change from last week, when several protested.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, whose anthem antics have been heavily booed by their home team, all stood for the song, although a few Steelers players were kneeling just prior to it. All members of the Jacksonville Jaguars stood, a change from their behavior in London, when several members took a knee.
Jaylen Reeves-Maybin and Steve Longa, two Detroit Lions players who previously kneeled during the anthem, joined teammates this week in a locked-arms stance during the song before their home game against the Carolina Panthers.
In the late afternoon games, Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Robert Quinn raised his right fist in the air, while punter Johnny Hekker wrapped his arm around Quinn’s waist in solidarity before their game against the Seattle Seahawks. The rest of the Rams did not lock arms, as they did last week, but stood at attention.
Attention-seeking Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch again remained seated during the anthem before his home game against the Baltimore Ravens, something he has done all season. While seated, Lynch wore a Raiders beanie and was surrounded by Raiders staff members.
Two Dallas Cowboys defensive linemen, Damontre Moore and David Irving, raised their fists at the national anthem’s conclusion. The Cowboys have yet to have a player kneel or sit in protest, but did lock arms in their first game. Their opponents, the Green Bay Packers, had every player stand and link arms except linebacker Clay Matthews. He stood behind their line with his hand over his heart.
Rounding out the NFL day was the Sunday Night Football game on NBC-TV featuring the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans. NBC did not televise the anthem, drawing some scathing rebukes from the Twitterverse. For KC, cornerback Marcus PEters, wide receiver Albert Wilson, and rookie linebackers Ukeme Eligwe and Tanoh Kpassagnon sat during the anthm. Peters has not stood for the anthem yet this season.