US Vice President Mike Pence has walked out of a football game between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers after roughly a dozen players from the 49ers took a knee during the national anthem.
The former Indiana governor flew to Lucas Oil Stadium so he could watch Peyton Manning’s jersey retirement ceremony.
Manning will become the first Indianapolis-era player in Colts history to have his number retired and will also be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor.
The White House issued a statement on Sunday regarding Pence’s departure from the game, which reads as follows:
“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.”
Pence also tweeted out the statement and followed it up with a picture of himself and his wife Karen standing with their hands over their hearts with the caption, “We were proud to stand — with all our Colts — for our soldiers, our flag, and our National Anthem.”
The White House also sent out the photo of Pence standing in an email alert.
President Trump chimed in on the matter via Twitter, writing “I asked [Vice President Pence] to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country.
I am proud of him and [Second Lady] Karen.”
Pence’s walkout throws fuel on the fire of the continuing controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.
The controversy – which has its origins with the then-San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick sitting during the anthem in 2016 – was escalated three weeks ago when Trump told a rally in Alabama, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!'”
Trump further heightened his demands by calling for fans to boycott the NFL. “You will see change take place fast,” Trump tweeted. “Fire or suspend!”
Since then, various teams have taken different actions during the national anthem, with some teams waiting it out in the locker room, others locking arms, and still more players continuing to take a knee.