Mike Pence’s decision to walk out at halftime of an Oct. 8 NFL game because of the anthem protests was an overt political demonstration. What makes the vice president’s protest legitimate and the NFL player’s protest inappropriate? Why can he use the sports arena to voice his opinion, but the players must remain silent and obedient? Was that just another example of white power brokers — i.e. Roger Goodell, Jerry Jones, FOX News executives, Donald Trump and company — dictating the terms of who gets to speak and under what conditions their voice can be heard?

One thing is for certain: a protest where no one is moved to action is useless. The nonviolent strategy that the NFL players have employed certainly makes many viewers uncomfortable — think how the restaurant sit-ins of the '50s and '60s made some people feel — but it has achieved what all social justice protests set out to do; it has forced people to make a choice. Because these demonstrations are so uncompromising and persistent, they are making people take a side, including players, coaches, owners, advertisers and, most importantly, families at home.

Besides, Pence is old enough to know that sports have historically been a catalyst for social change. From Jesse Owens' gold medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947, to John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 to the post-apartheid South African rugby team in 1995, social justice and athletics have been brought together in dramatic ways. One of my favorite quotes is from Kofi Annan, Nobelist and seventh secretary-general of the U.N., who said, “Sport has the power to change the world. Sport brings people together, no matter what their origin, background, religious beliefs or economic status. It has an almost unmatched role to play in promoting understanding, healing wounds and breaking down barriers. When young people participate in sports, they can build up their health and self-esteem, use their talents to the fullest, learn the ideals of teamwork and tolerance and be drawn away from the dangers of drugs and crime. We must use the power of sport as an agent of social change.”

Is that not what the NFL players are doing? Instead of using their platform to promote their own egoism, material success and social isolation, they are doing something positive to build up their communities, break down racial barriers and inspire self-esteem in millions of fans, especially young African-American youth. Rather than turning his back on them, the vice president should have applauded their strength and courage.

George Cassidy Payne is the founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International, a SUNY adjunct humanities instructor and domestic violence counselor.