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.”
San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid said Pence’s departure looked like “a PR stunt.”
“He knew our team has had the most players protest, he knew that we were probably going to do it again,” Reid said. “This is what systemic oppression looks like: man with power comes to the game, tweets a couple things out and leaves the game in an attempt to thwart our efforts.”
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.
“No,” Pagano said when asked if he had any reaction to what Pence did.
Colts players stood in unison, locking arms but standing throughout the anthem.
But the 49ers have been among the most visible protesters in the league. Last year, former quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement to kneel or sit during the anthem, and Reid and other teammates backed him up on and off the field.
President Donald Trump later tweeted: “I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.”
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.
Manning became the first Indianapolis-era player in Colts history to have his number retired. He also was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor.
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. Instead, Pence spent most of Saturday honoring victims of the Las Vegas shooting before returning to his home state.