Vice President Mike Pence was in attendance for the Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49ers game on Sunday, but he wasn't there for long.
That's because he left Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis after several 49ers players took a knee for the playing of the national anthem.
Pence, the former governor of Indiana, took to Twitter to announce his early departure, writing that he couldn't "dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem."
— Vice President Pence (@VP) October 8, 2017
The vice president later released the following statement:
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. At a time when so many Americans are inspiring our nation with their courage, resolve, and resilience, now, more than ever, we should rally around our Flag and everything that unites us. While everyone is entitled to their opinions, I don't think it's too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem. I stand with President Trump, I stand with our soldiers, and I will always stand for our Flag and our National Anthem.
More than 20 San Francisco players could be seen taking a knee during the anthem before Sunday's Week 5 contest, according to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. No Colts players could be seen protesting.
National anthem protests across the NFL began last season when former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who remains without an NFL job, refused to stand in protest of racial inequality and police brutality. His former teammates have continued to take a knee during the national anthem this season.
Eric Reid, a 49ers safety who knelt alongside Kaepernick last season, reemphasized earlier this year and after Sunday's game that kneeling for the anthem is not designed to disrespect the military or the flag. The act is designed to press for equality and tackle what Reid says is "systemic oppression."
"This is not about the military," Reid told NBC Sports Bay Area. "This is not about the flag. This is not about the anthem. My mother served in the armed forces. Three of my uncles served in the armed forces. In fact, my mom would’ve gone to the Persian Gulf War had she not been pregnant with me. I have the upmost respect for the military, the anthem and the flag. So I will say that every time you interview me."
Reid also suggested that Pence's exit seemed to be a "PR stunt."
"He knew our team has had the most players protest," Reid told NBC Sports Bay Area. "He knew that we were probably going to do to it again. This is what systemic oppression looks like. A man with power comes to a game, he tweets a couple things out and leaves the game with an attempt to thwart our efforts."
Service members at Fleet Week were split on the issue, some saying it's disrespectful and other agreeing with Reid.
"It's their constitutional right. That's what we fight for," U.S. Marines Sgt. Michael Johnson said. "So, it's part of the constitution, and they're free to do what they choose."
Others said they agree with Pence, saying kneeling during the anthem disrespects the flag.
"I support my vice president," said Alexandra Frias, a member of the U.S. Navy who added that she fights for both the flag and the freedoms it stands for.
President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter after the start of the game that he requested Pence to "leave the stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country." In the same tweet, Trump said he was "proud" of Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence, who was also in attendance.
NBC Bay Area's Thom Jensen contributed to this report.