Amid Widespread Mockery, Trump Defends Pence’s NFL Walk-Out

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence protested the rightful protesting of players at the beginning of a National Football League game on Sunday, as he was ordered to do by President Trump. During the national anthem in a game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers, some of the 49ers knelt and some of the Colts locked arms while wearing black T-shirts that read “We Will Stand For… Equality, Justice, Unity, Respect, Dialogue, Opportunity.” These players are silently protesting against police violence and racial inequality.

Pence, who had planned to attend the game for months, protested their First Amendment right to peacefully protest by walking out of the game after the anthem. “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,” Pence said in a statement issued by the White House. Shortly after releasing the statement, the White House also released a photo of Pence and his wife at the stadium, hands held over their hearts during the anthem.

Trump defended Pence’s walk out on Twitter, revealing that the act was premeditated: “The trip by @VP Pence was long planned. He is receiving great praise for leaving game after the players showed such disrespect for country!”

After the departure, Pence and Trump were criticized for making a political production of the walk out, and that it was nothing more than a photo opportunity. This would contradict the words of Trump’s own Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has said that athletes “can do free speech on their own time.”

An undisclosed official in Pence’s office shared that Pence left the game due to a previous conversation with Trump. “As he had discussed with the president, when several 49ers players disrespected the flag and the national anthem, the vice president decided to leave the game,” the official said.

The NFL also released a statement, but in defense of the players’ right to protest: “We should not stifle these discussions and cannot allow our rights to become subservient to the very opinions our Constitution protects. That is what makes us the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

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