By Michael Marot
INDIANAPOLIS — Vice President Pence left the 49ers-Colts game after about a dozen San Francisco players took a knee during the national anthem Sunday, the latest move by President Trump’s administration to clash with NFL players over patriotism and public demonstrations.
The former Indiana governor flew in so he could watch Peyton Manning’s jersey retirement ceremony. Pence didn’t stick around long.
Right around kickoff, Pence wrote on Twitter: “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.”
The White House also issued a statement from Pence, in which he said Americans should rally around the flag. Pence said: “I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem.”
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 in 2016.
After Pence’s walkout, Trump tweeted: “I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy declined to comment on Pence’s walkout. The Colts also had no comment, and after their 26-23 overtime victory, Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano steered clear of the issue.
Pence flew in on Saturday after a statue of Manning was unveiled, an event attended by a number of luminaries including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The vice president had spent most of Saturday honoring victims of the Las Vegas shooting.
Pence is a noted sports fan and it was the second major event he’s attended in his home state since taking office in January. He also attended May’s Indianapolis 500, a family tradition.