Pence photo op

On Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis, Colts fans gathered to honor former star quarterback Peyton Manning, with the Colts unveiling a statue and retiring his No. 18 jersey.

Attention didn’t stay on Manning for long. The Trump administration had a different game plan.

According to a tweet from President Donald Trump, he told Vice President Mike Pence to leave the game if any NFL players knelt during the singing of the national anthem. Journalists traveling with Pence were told that he would be making only a brief stop at the football stadium. A dozen San Francisco 49’ers knelt silently on one knee as the Star Spangled Banner was sung. The vice president left immediately after and tweeted: “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.”

Pence has every right to express his opinion of the NFL players who chose to express their opinions, but he shouldn’t have done so at the expense of American taxpayers. The Air Force 2 flights from Las Vegas to Indianapolis and on to California cost $242,000, according to Air Force estimates for that type of aircraft. That doesn’t include expenses for the vice president’s advance team or Secret Service security. A portion of the Indiana-to-California costs may be reimbursed by the Republican National Committee because Pence’s California schedule included GOP fundraising. If Pence had skipped the Indy stunt and flown directly to California, the flight cost would have been about $45,000.

Pence’s NFL protest turned into fundraising fodder the next day. According to Bloomberg News, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee sent an email Monday asking supporters to give at least $5 to the campaign to receive a sticker saying “I stand for the flag.”

While Trump and Pence blasted NFL players, they were silent about another weekend protest. On Saturday night, 40 to 50 supporters of white supremacists participated in a “flash mob” in Charlottesville, Virginia. According to Charlottesville police, the protesters carried flaming tiki torches as they marched through Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park.

The torch-bearing marchers chanted “you will not replace us” and “we will be back” before boarding a bus that Charlottesville police followed until it was out of the city.

It was the third white supremacist gathering to protest the Charlottesville city council’s vote to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. On Aug. 12 a white supremacist rally turned deadly when a driver plowed his vehicle into a crowd of counter protesters. Trump initially refused to condemn the KKK and other white supremacist groups that staged the August rally, then blamed both sides for violence.

“It’s clear that these white supremacists are using torches, fire and hate speech to intimidate our citizens,” Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy tweeted Saturday night.

“We are monitoring this situation as we continue to oppose these racists and their message of hate,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe tweeted.

That’s what Trump should have said. Instead, he has told the NFL to fire players who take a knee to show their concerns about mistreatment of African American men by U.S. law enforcement. If the president wants players to stop protesting, he should acknowledge their valid complaints and work to improve relations between police and black citizens.

Trump’s silence on Charlottesville says more than his tweets against NFL players.