President Obama has voiced his support for Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem.
“He’s following his constitutional right to make a statement,” Obama said in a news conference on Monday. “I think there’s a long history of sports figures doing so.”
Obama was asked about the controversial 49ers player while attending the G20 economic summit in Hangzhou, China. 49ers Hot Read reported that the president admitted that he had not been following sports much recently, but he spoke out in support of Kaepernick.
“I don’t doubt his sincerity. I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about,” Obama told the press. “And, if nothing else, he’s generated some conversation around some topics that need to be talked about.”
The president acknowledged that Kaepernick’s refusal to stand has stirred deep emotions in many Americans, especially for veterans.
“As a general matter when it comes to the flag and the national anthem and the meaning that 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,” he said, “to then hear what his deeper concerns are.”
He defended the biracial quarterback’s “messy” protest, though.
“Maybe some of his critics will start seeing he has a point around certain concerns around justice and equality.”
The president went on to say that he prefers peaceful protest like Kaepernick’s to apathy when it comes to political matters, according to Bleacher Report.
“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.”
Kaepernick sat or knelt during the national anthem throughout the preseason, though it didn’t make national news until after the 49ers’ third preseason game when a reporter asked him to discuss why he was sitting. He told ESPN’s Nick Wagoner that the silent protest wasn’t for himself but was against “a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
“This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and affect change,” he told Wagoner. “I’m in the position where I can do that, and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”
Kaepernick has vowed to keep his protest going until he sees “real change,” but the New York Daily News reports that he now says that he will kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner” instead of sitting on the bench as a sign of respect to the military.
Despite the backlash against Kaepernick, the player is receiving a lot of support around the nation. Other sports figures have voiced their support, such as Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer Jim Brown, Denver Broncos offensive tackle Russell Okung, fellow 49ers teammate Eric Reid, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In addition, 35 United States veterans posted a letter of support for Kaepernick on Medium.
“As military veterans, we write to express our support for the tradition of advocacy by athletes that is embodied by Jackie Robinson and carried on by Colin Kaepernick,” they wrote. “Far from disrespecting our troops, there is no finer form of appreciation for our sacrifice than for Americans to enthusiastically exercise their freedom of speech.”
Sales of Kaepernick sports gear has also skyrocketed since the controversy began. ESPN has reported that more Kaepernick gear has been sold in the past week than the previous eight months combined, and NFL.com announced on Wednesday that Kaepernick’s jersey is now the No. 1-selling jersey at the NFL Shop.
Kaepernick posted to his Instagram account on Wednesday thanking people for their support. He pledged to donate all of his jersey proceeds back into the communities. He has also pledged to donate the first $1 million he earns this season to different organizations, according to the Daily News. He is expected to make $11.9 million this season.
[Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP Images]