Obama: Colin Kaepernick ‘exercising constitutional right’

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers throws a pass against the Green Bay Packers in the first half of their preseason football game at Levi's Stadium on August 26, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers throws a pass against the Green Bay Packers in the first half of their preseason football game at Levi's Stadium on August 26, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

HANGZHOUChina — President Barack Obama said Monday that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is “exercising his constitutional right” by not standing for the national anthem.

“I gotta confess that I haven’t been thinking about football while I’ve been over here and I haven’t been follow this closely,” Obama said Monday during a news conference at the conclusion of the G20 summit in China. “But my understanding, at least, is that is he’s exercising his constitutional right to make a statement. I think there’s a long history of sports figures doing so.”

Kaepernick has refused to stand for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before 49ers pre-season games, protesting police violence against African Americans.

Kaepernick’s protests have spurred outrage in certain quarters, with some, including Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, calling for him to leave the country.

Obama took a measured approach Monday, saying that members of the military, getting in harm’s way for the flag and the country, could feel spurned by Kaepernick’s protest, he is also glad that Kaepernick is speaking up.

“As a general matter, when it comes to the flag the national anthem and the meaning that holds for our men and women in uniform and those who’ve fought for us — that is a tough thing for them to get past to then hear what his deeper concerns are,” he said. “But I don’t doubt his sincerity. I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that need to be talked about and if nothing else what he’s doing has generated more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about.”

Obama continued, “But I’d rather have young people engaged in the argument and trying to think through how they can be part of our democratic process than those who are just sitting on the sidelines.”