President Barack Obama said San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has the constitutional right to protest by refusing to stand during the national anthem.
Speaking at the G20 Summit news conference in Hangzou, China, on Monday, Obama credited Kaepernick’s protest against the treatment of African-Americans and other minorities in the United States for generating “more conversation about some of the topics that need to be talked about.”
Obama also said he doesn’t doubt the sincerity of Kaepernick’s protest even though he understands his refusal to stand during the anthem might be an action people find difficult to accept.
Kaepernick has been criticized since news of his silent pregame protests were first reported by NFL Network’s Steve Wyche after the 49ers’ third preseason game. Kaepernick reiterated after last week’s preseason finale that his protest is not intended to be an anti-American gesture, and that he wants to bring attention to racial injustice in the U.S.
Here are the president’s full comments on Kaepernick’s protest:
“In terms of Mr. Kaepernick, I’ve got to confess that I haven’t been thinking about football while I’ve been over here and I haven’t been following this closely, but my understanding, at least, is that he’s exercising his constitutional right to make a statement.
“I think there’s a long history of sports figures doing so. I think there are a lot of ways you can do it. As a general matter, when it comes to the flag, and the national anthem, and the meaning it holds for our men and women in uniform and those who fought for us, that is a tough thing for them to get past, to then hear what his deeper concerns are. But I don’t doubt his sincerity, based on what I’ve heard. I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about. And if nothing else, what he’s done is he’s generated more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about.
“You’ve heard about me talk about in the past for the need for us to have an active citizenry. Sometimes that’s messy, and controversial and it gets people angry and frustrated. But I’d rather have young people who are engaged in the argument and trying to think through how they can be part of our democratic process than people who are just sitting on the sidelines and not paying attention at all.”