Washington (AFP) - US Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an NFL game Sunday when some players kneeled for the national anthem, the latest twist in a running saga over the controversial protests against racial injustice.
"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 wrote on Twitter.
While Colts players stood arm-in-arm at their home game in Indianapolis, more than 20 of the opposition San Francisco 49ers players knelt during the song.
It was a less organized gesture than the team's demonstration last week, when 30 players kneeled with hands on hearts while teammates stood behind them, but it should have come as little shock to Pence, an Indiana native who tweeted his photo in Colts cap and shirt before the game.
"While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I don't think it's too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem," Pence tweeted. "I stand with President Trump, I stand with our soldiers, and I will always stand for our Flag and our National Anthem."
Trump took credit for the departure of Pence and his wife from the stadium in a later tweet, saying, "I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen."
San Francisco safety Eric Reid, one of the players to embrace the anthem protest after it was initiated by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last year, said Pence's walk-out looked like a publicity stunt.
"With the information I have, the last time he went to a Colts game was three years ago, so this looks like a PR stunt to me," said Reid, noting that the picture Pence had tweeted of himself and his wife in Colts apparel appeared to be the same as one taken at a game three years ago.
The vice president also tweeted a picture of himself, clad in a button-down shirt and blazer, and his wife standing for the anthem on Sunday.
"He knew our team has had the most players protest. He knew we were probably going to do it again," Reid said.
"And so this is what systemic oppression looks like -- a man with power comes to the game, tweets a couple things out and leaves the game with an attempt to thwart our efforts."
Pence, who flew to Indianapolis from Las Vegas and was scheduled to head back west to California, was criticized in other quarters as well.
"After all the scandals involving unnecessarily expensive travel by cabinet secretaries, how much taxpayer money was wasted on this stunt?" US congressman Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, said in a tweet.