Today at a press conference in Hangzhou, China, as part of the G-20 summit, President Obama addressed San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s recent protests.
“I’ve got to confess,” the president began in response to a question concerning the controversy, “I haven’t been thinking about football while I’ve been over here.”
Nevertheless, President Obama was obviously familiar with the situation surrounding Kaepernick. During the first three games of the NFL preseason, Kaepernick sat through the opening-ceremony national anthem in protest, later explaining his decision to reporters:
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.
- Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick has effectively added his voice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, much to the dismay and outrage of many throughout the professional sports arena and beyond.
While the quarterback’s actions have been highly criticized, a large constituency has come out in support of Kaepernick. Others simply acknowledge the importance of peaceful protest under protection of the first amendment, and Kaepernick’s right to exercise his voice.
In his brief address, the president put himself somewhere between the latter two categories:
My understanding is that he’s exercising his constitutional right to make a statement. I think there’s a long history of sports figures doing so…when it comes to the flag and the national anthem, and the meaning that that holds for our men and women in uniform…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.
- President Barack Obama
In the fourth and final game of the NFL preseason, Kaepernick kneeled, rather than sat, during the national anthem. He has stated that his actions are not anti-American, but an attempt to direct attention to the treatment of people of color by police officers, and his decision to kneel was a display of respect to military members and families while carrying out his protest.
President Obama ended his statements on the Kaepernick issue thusly:
You’ve heard me talk about in the past, our need to have an active citizenry. Sometimes that’s messy and controversial and 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 not paying attention at all.
- President Barack Obama