President Obama said NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was "exercising his constitutional right" to bring attention to racial injustice by not taking part in the national anthem at the start of San Francisco 49ers football games.
Obama made the comments Monday at a Group of 20 summit news conference in China.
The president said that he did not doubt Kaepernick's sincerity in attempting to highlight social issues and noted that the player was the latest in a long line of professional sports figures to do so. However, Obama also acknowledged that Kaepernick's silent protest was a "tough thing" for many members of the military to accept.
"When it comes to the flag and the national anthem and the meaning that holds for our men and women in uniform and those who fought for us — that is a tough thing for them to get past," said Obama. "But I don’t doubt his sincerity. I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about. If nothing else, he’s generated more conversation about issues that have to be talked about."
Kaepernick has been heavily criticized since starting his silent protest. He’s said it’s not an anti-American gesture but a means to highlight the treatment of African Americans by police officers. He has said that he is trying to support "people who are oppressed."
Obama said that Kaepernick's decision to sit out the national anthem before games was "messy" but that it was "the way democracy works."
“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 not paying attention at all,” said Obama.