Vice President Mike Pence made headlines on Oct. 8 for leaving an NFL game in Indianapolis shortly after kickoff in response to players kneeling during the national anthem. Pence said that he would not “dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, or our national anthem.”
President Donald Trump quickly praised Pence’s actions, revealing that he had asked Pence to leave the game if players knelt during the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Some echoed this support, feeling that Pence stood up for soldiers and respect for the American flag in general by leaving the game.
Others took offense, in varying degrees, to Pence’s early departure from the game. Pence had arrived at Indianapolis after visiting a mourning Las Vegas community, and promptly flew to Los Angeles after his brief appearance at the Indianapolis Colts game. According to CNN, Pence’s travel for flying between these three cities cost taxpayers at least $242,500, not including additional expenses for Secret Service and other personnel involved. Had Pence simply flown from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, the trip would have cost approximately $45,000.
As a result, some citizens were angered that Pence was wasting government money with a publicity stunt. This reaction is deserved to some extent, but while the roughly $200,000 “wasted” on Pence’s flights may seem to be an excessive sum, this amount does not even make a dent in a government budget of roughly $4 trillion.
To me, this sum is more problematic because kneeling football players are not the most pressing issue in America right now. This money is better spent elsewhere. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine an NFL game without some form of protest during the national anthem, especially after Trump called out players for doing so at a rally last month. Thus, the phrasing that Pence would leave the game “if” players knelt has no conditionality at all. At this point, these protests are a certainty.
Most upsetting, Pence’s early departure indicates that the White House is blind to the actual message of the NFL players. Kneeling, locking arms, and raising fists are not intended to be an attack on the national anthem itself. These players do not hate America. Rather, they are trying to inspire – or at least start a conversation about – problems of racial injustice that have affected black people across the country.
I understand that for many Americans the national anthem is a sacred aspect of our country and that these protests could be interpreted as a sign of disrespect; however, if Pence, Trump, or anyone for that matter, wants the kneeling to stop, they should recognize the message that the players are trying to send. Working to combat racial injustice would be a victory for all parties involved; players would see their demands met, and those offended by the anthem protests see them come to an end. It’s quite baffling that the White House has not yet realized the benefits of such a course of action.
Yes, actually solving the racial problems deeply ingrained in our society is no easy task, but at least taking a first step would demonstrate to anthem protesters that the government does hear their message. On the contrary, the government has overshadowed their protests by denouncing their mode instead of trying to understand their message. Disagreeing with the methods of this peaceful protest is one thing, but refusing to acknowledge its message is unacceptable.