A good deal of the chatter online during the early slate of Sunday’s games centered around Vice President Mike Pence, who showed up to the Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49ers game at Lucas Oil Stadium for a photo op and another opportunity for the Trump-Pence administration to stoke the fires of racial animus toward NFL players who protest injustice and inequality during the playing of the national anthem.
Pence left the game after the anthem, during which several members of the 49ers took a knee (none of the Colts players kneeled), and quickly released a statement that he wouldn’t stay because he “will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.” This is despite repeated declarations by all kneeling players that the protest is not meant as a sign of disrespect to the military or flag.
It’s since become clear that the early exit was little more than a political publicity stunt.
After the game, which the Colts won in overtime, injured 49ers safety Eric Reid, who was kneeling with then-teammate Colin Kaepernick last year and continues to now, called Pence out.
“My honest reaction – does anybody know the last time he’s been to a football game?” Reid said. “With that being said, he tweeted out a 3-year-old photo of him at a Colts game, so with the information I have, the last time he was at a Colts game was three years ago. So this looks like a PR stunt to me. He knew our team had the most players protest. He knew that we were probably going to do it again.
“This is what systemic oppression looks like. A man with power comes to the game, tweets a couple of things out, and leave the game with an attempt to thwart our efforts. Based on the information I have, that’s the assumption I’ve made.”
Reid also said Pence, like many, has twisted the meaning of the player protests.
“It’s really disheartening when … the vice president of the United States is trying to confuse the message that we’re trying to put out there,” Reid said. “This is about systemic oppression that has been rampant in this country decades upon decades. And I will continue to encourage people to educate themselves on how we got to where we are today, because it didn’t happen overnight and it’s not going to happen overnight to fix these issues. So we’re going to keep talking about it.”
It’s a fair assumption that it was little more than an attention-seeking act. Pence was in Las Vegas on Saturday night, flew to Indianapolis and went to the game, which kicked off at 1 p.m. ET. Because of Pence’s presence, fans were subjected to extra security and traffic around the stadium before the game was heavier than usual. All of that, and Pence left to fly to a previously scheduled appearance at a fundraiser in Los Angeles just a few minutes into the game.