A year ago almost to the day, Vice President Mike Pence arrived at an Indianapolis Colts game against the San Francisco 49ers, ostensibly to watch the Colts honor former franchise QB Peyton Manning. But when several members of the 49ers knelt during the national anthem, Pence, his wife, and his security team walked out.
The move drew praise from the president. But many observers called it a stunt, a deliberate performance meant to whip up the base, and newly released documents indicate that Pence’s walkout was anything but a spontaneous demonstration of patriotic outrage.
Why Pence walked out
Cast your mind back to Week 5 of last year. The NFL was consumed with the protest crisis, which began — you all know this — with Colin Kaepernick kneeling and kicked into high gear when President Trump criticized protesters just before Week 3. But the bonfires from Week 3 were already starting to die out by Week 5 … that is, until Pence walked out on the 49ers, Kaepernick’s old team and one that had kneeling players on its roster for the entire year.
I left today's Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) October 8, 2017
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2017
(We don’t need to tell you that the protests were aimed at raising awareness of racial inequality and police brutality and were not in any way “unpatriotic,” do we? Because you’ve known for a year if you’ll accept that explanation or not, and minds aren’t changing at this late date.)
The result: Pence made his president proud. But it came at a high price.
What it cost
Initial reports in the wake of Pence’s NFL protest indicated that the cost was a minimum of $250,000, based on the $43,000 an hour cost to operate Air Force Two. A new report from the Huffington Post notes that the additional cost for Secret Service lodging and protection and other elements ran to $75,000, bringing the full cost to well in excess of $325,000, a figure that does not include local security and emergency-response overtime costs.
The Huffington Post report, which used Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain expenditures, also noted several costs that seemed to undercut the idea that this was a long-planned event. In addition to the fact that pool reporters traveling with the vice president were told that he might be leaving early, the Secret Service reports indicate that lodging and other protection wasn’t reserved until days before the game — not weeks, as Pence’s staff told CNN.
Pence did not repeat his walkout for the rest of the NFL season, and to date neither he nor the president has returned to an NFL game. The protests during the anthem have all but disappeared, with most players choosing to focus their energies on less divisive efforts.
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