Vice President Mike Pence exited Lucas Oil Stadium early after 23 San Francisco 49ers players knelt for the national anthem on Sunday. He received more criticism from the media than the athletes refusing to rise.
Deadspin called Pence a “fragile stooge.” Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel described the vice president’s actions as “cheap” and “grandstanding.” Ryan Van Bibber wrote at SB Nation that Pence went to the game “to frighten owners about players exercising their First Amendment rights, and in the process distract from a necessary conversation about justice and equality. He was there to make his appearance the story, whatever the cost.”
Of course, millionaires so offended by “The Star Spangled Banner” that they kneel aren’t fragile stooges. They don’t grandstand. And their actions don’t distract from the game.
Don’t believe that? I read it in the newspapers. It has to be true.
Pointing to Eric Reid’s comment that Pence leaving the venue “is what systemic oppression looks like,” Deadspin declared that the 49ers safety “had some smart insight.” If walking out of a stadium is what systemic oppression looks like, systemic oppression looks not terribly oppressive. In fact, it looks a lot like freedom.
That’s not “smart insight,” just obvious.
The big criticism involves Pence planning in advance to leave if any players disrespected the flag, as though a spontaneous departure would have passed muster with jock journalists but thinking about the possibility in advance represented some great act of deceit. Certainly Colin Kaepernick did not just sit during the song on a whim. Like Pence, he thought about what he would do. Most people, even journalists, think before acting.
The boo-bird response to the vice president, like the go-Kap-go cheerleading of King Kneeler, represents a disconnect between the people who write about sports and the people who watch sports. A 10 percent decline in ratings from last year, which also witnessed drops, shows what the fans think. They vote with their remote controls. Journalists vote with their mouths and pens. On this vote, like so many others, the press and the people do not find common ground.