Obama defends 49ers quarterback’s anthem protest
HANGZHOU, China — President Barack Obama on Monday defended San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem, saying Kaepernick was “exercising his constitutional right to make a statement.”
The flag and anthem hold so much meaning for many men and women in uniform and others who have de- fended the country that the style of Kaepernick’s protest may make it difficult for them to “hear what his deeper concerns are,” Obama said.
He told reporters at a news conference in Hangzhou that he would rather see people engaged in the argument than “just sitting on the sidelines.”
Obama spoke after wrapping up an international economic summit, part of a weeklong trip to Asia.
Asked about the Kaepernick controversy, Obama initially said that he hadn’t been paying close attention to it but then delivered a carefully nuanced response, saying that he doesn’t doubt the sincerity of the quarterback and that Kaepernick “cares about some real legitimate issues that have to be Kaepernick talked about.”
If nothing else, Obama said, Kaepernick has gotten people talking about subjects of race, equality and discrimination, topics that Obama, the first black president, son of a white mother and Kenyan father, has examined many times.
Kaepernick hasn’t stood for the anthem at any of the preseason games, at first choosing to sit and then, last Thursday, kneeling along with teammate Eric Reid.
Kaepernick has named police brutality and racial injustice among the reasons for his silent protest and indicated that he will keep it up during the regular season that begins Sept. 12 with a game against the Los Angeles Rams.
The reactions to Kaepernick’s silent protest have been dramatic. Supportive fans have clamored for autographs, and sales of his jersey have skyrocketed. Team officials say they stand behind the quarterback and his right not to participate.
But other fans have heckled and booed Kaepernick, and the Santa Clara, Calif., police union has threatened to boycott their usual security duties at 49ers games.
Maybe over time, Obama said, Kaepernick will refine his thoughts and some of his critics will start seeing that he has a point.
“Sometimes, it’s messy,” he said. “That’s how democracy works.”