Vice President Mike Pence left Sunday's Indianapolis Colts matchup against the San Francisco 49ers early after several players on the opposing team reportedly kneeled during the national anthem.
Pence later tweeted, "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.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the NFL and its players for those who participated in silent protest by kneeling during the national anthem, taking aim at top professional athletes in comments that brought swift condemnation from league executives and star players.
Mr. Trump most recently suggested team owners are reluctant to address players' protests because they're "afraid" of their players.
"Well, I have so many friends that are owners. And they're in a box. I mean I've spoken to a couple of them. They say, we are in a situation where we have to do something. I think they're afraid of their players, you want to know the truth. And I think it's disgraceful," Mr. Trump said in an interview with FOX News Channel's FOX & Friends.
Mr. Trump also repeated his call for a new rule forcing players to stand while the national anthem played.
"They have rules for everything," he said. "Why aren't they honoring this country by enforcing a rule that's been in existence for a long time? So the NFL and the players really have to do the honor of the country. It's for the honor of the country. They have to respect our country. They have to respect our flag and our anthem."
The White House has defended Mr. Trump's comments and tweets, with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling reporters, "I think that it's always appropriate for the president of the United States to defend our flag, to defend the national anthem and to the defend the men and women who fought and died to defend it."
Pence had arrived to the game earlier on Sunday with his wife Karen Pence, tweeting that the two looked forward to "honoring the great career of #18 Peyton Manning." The Colts were retiring the former quarterback's jersey at the game and had recently unveiled a new statue of the player outside Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.
The president tweeted after Pence's departure, saying that he had "asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country." He added that he was "proud" of him and Karen.
Pence was due to attend a campaign event later Sunday night in California.