Pence NFL walkout reignites debate over anthem protests

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, stand during the playing of the national anthem before an NFL football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 8, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Vice President Mike Pence’s abrupt departure from Sunday’s Indianapolis Colts game is reigniting a debate over whether NFL players should kneel during the national anthem.

President Donald Trump said he asked Pence to leave the game if any players kneeled.

White House aides said Pence planned the trip for weeks because he wanted to be at the game when the team honored former star quarterback Peyton Manning. Officials said those plans changed when a group of 49ers took a knee.

Rodney Heard, a former Colts fan who burned four sets of season tickets in a viral video last month after nine Colts players kneeled, said a friend texted him Sunday saying Pence walked out.

“I respect him for that,” Heard said. “He was in a position where, if he would have stayed, everyone would have called him a hypocrite. He stuck to his morals and his values and he walked out after the national anthem.”

Pence tweeted, “I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag or our National Anthem.”

Trump tweeted Monday that Pence is earning praise for the move, but praise is not all he’s getting. A 49ers safety, Eric Reid, called the move a “PR stunt.”

“He knew that 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. The Vice Presient of the United States is trying to confuse the message we’re trying to put out there.”

The protests started early last season when former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he took a knee to protest police brutality against African-Americans.

Last week, about 30 49ers kneeled during the anthem.

“I felt like he’s a puppet,” football fan Cory Wilson said. “He did a puppet move for Trump.”

None of the Colts took a knee before the 49ers game. Some Colts fans praised Pence after the game.

On Sunday, Pence flew from Las Vegas to Indianapolis and then from Indianapolis back west to Los Angeles.

CNN reports the trip carried a price tag of about $242,000 after two Air Force Two flights.

White House officials said, if Pence didn’t go to the game, he still would have flown east to spend the evening in Washington, D.C.

24-Hour News 8 reached out to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department to ask how Pence’s visit affected local police. IMPD has not gotten back to us with specifics.