It has taken more than a week since the controversy unfolded, but President Barack Obama has chimed in on Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest by not standing for the national anthem before San Francisco 49ers games.
Speaking at the G20 economic summit in China, Obama twice called Kaepernick’s social justice stance “messy” and saying that it can be a “tough thing” for military service members to accept. But Obama also defended Kaepernick in terms of “exercising his constitutional right” to support his beliefs, via the Washington Post.
It was about as middle-of-the-road, non-partisan as a politician can get on what clearly is a thorny and divisive issue, but the president did acknowledge the connection between the flag and the military. Obama also claimed that he hasn’t “been thinking about football while I’ve been over here” or “following this [story] closely.”
Since Kaepernick chose not to stand a week ago Friday, the issue has stirred up discussion on both sides of the argument and well exceeded sports. The president said he believes that is likely a good thing, even with the messy side effects.
“I don’t doubt his sincerity, based on what I’ve heard,” Obama said. “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.”
Obama added: “Sometimes that’s messy and controversial and gets people angry and frustrated. But I’d rather have young people that are engaged in the argument and trying to think through how they can be part of our democratic process than people just sitting on the sidelines not participating at all.”
Kaepernick said he will cease his sit-down protest when “I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent.”
“My suspicion is that over time he’s going to refine how he thinks about it,” Obama said. “Maybe some of his critics will start seeing that he had a point about concerns about justice and equality. That’s how we move forward.”
Most people are taking a firm stance on the issue, one direction or the other. But for the most part, the president chose to punt on doing that.
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