Pence follows Trump order and walks out of 49ers-Colts after players kneel

VP leaves NFL game after about a dozen San Francisco players kneel, before Trump corroborates walkout was planned and says he is proud

Vice-president Mike Pence left the 49 ers-Colts NFL game in Indianapolis on Sunday in a schemed stoppage, after about a dozen San Francisco players kneeled during the course of its playing of “the member states national” anthem.

Pence announced his deviation from the Lucas Oil Stadium on Twitter. A White House statement follow, with a tweet from President Donald Trump which corroborated the stoppage was not spontaneous.

” I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country ,” Trump wrote.” I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen .”

Protests of the anthem by NFL players, almost all African American, began last year when the then 49 ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled in protest against racial injustice and police brutality. 49 ers players have been prominent among those kneeling this season and could have been expected to kneeling on Sunday.

Nor was Pence scheduled to take up the whole game. Us air force Two was due to take off from Indianapolis International Airport at 4pm on Sunday, in order for the vice-president to attend a political fundraiser in Los Angeles. The Colts-4 9ers game kicked off at 1pm ET and finished after 4.30 pm, after going to overtime.

At a rally in Alabama last month, Trump launched aggressive criticism of players and the NFL. Though Kaepernick had kneeled to protest unpunished police killings of African Americans, the president and the White House insisted that protesting the anthem showed disrespect to the flag and to American troops, veterans and first responders.

Senior administration figures including Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin and Attorney General Jeff Sessions were deployed to say that in this instance, freedom of speech did not apply. In answer, large numbers of players knelt, teams co-ordinated actions and owners criticised Trump’s terms.

Though debate continued about the meaning of the protests, until Pence’s walkout the issue had seemed to be receding from public view.

Players and some NFL writers guess Kaepernick, who took the 49 ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, has been blackballed by the league. On Sunday, CBS reported that he said he would not protest the anthem if he ever returned. The reporter then recanted the narrative and Kaepernick tweeted a quote attributed to- but not coined by– Winston Churchill:” A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its gasps on .”

Members
Members of the San Francisco 49 ers kneel during the course of its playing of the national anthem. Photograph: Michael Conroy/ AP

Many commentators have also accused the president of seeking to use the NFL protests as a distraction from his own political woes.

Trump has recently been criticised for his response to the catastrophic effect of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico, for his approach to North Korea, and over his relationship with secretary of state Rex Tillerson. On Sunday, the president was embroiled in an embarrassing exchange of insults with Bob Corker, the chair of the Senate foreign relations committee and a senior is part of Republican leadership.

The New York Times reported in September that attacking protesting NFL players was ” a calculated attempt to shore up” Trump’s political base.

In the statement issued by the White House, Pence said:” 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 .”

The statement then seemed to allude to Pence’s visit to Las Vegas on Saturday, when he gratified survivors and first-responders from the mass shooting at a music celebration last week in which 58 people were killed and virtually 500 injured.

It read:” At a period when so many Americans are inspiring our nation with their fortitude, resolve, and resilience , now, more than ever, we should rally around our flag and everything that unites us .”

The White House released a picture of Pence and his wife stand for the anthem at the stadium in Indianapolis, with their hands on their hearts.

Pence’s Las Vegas visit mean he missed an unveiling of a statue of the great Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning on Saturday. Manning’s jersey was retired on Sunday.

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