President Obama devoted several minutes of a press conference at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China on 5 September 2016 to sharing his thoughts about NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s ongoing protest against racial injustice in the United States. To date, that protest has taken the form of Kaepernick refusing to stand during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick has said. “To me, it’s 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.”
When asked about Kaepernick and the controversy surrounding his refusal to stand for the anthem, Obama defended the quarterback’s constitutional right to speak out, cited the long history of sports figures doing so, and said he would rather see young people looking for ways to be engaged in political issues than sitting on the sidelines. Here is a video capturing his remarks about Kaepernick, followed by a transcript of them:
In terms of Mr. Kaepernick, you know, I gotta confess that I haven’t been thinking about football while I’ve been over here, and I haven’t been following this closely, but my understanding, at least, is that he’s exercising his constitutional right to make a statement. I think there’s a long history of sports figures doing so.
I think there are a lot of ways you can do it. As a general matter, when it comes to the flag and the national anthem, and the meaning that 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 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. And, if nothing else, what he’s done is he’s generated more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about.
So, again, I haven’t been paying close attention to it, but you’ve heard me talk about in the past the need for us to have an active citizenry. Sometimes that’s messy and controversial, and it 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 and not paying attention at all.
My suspicion is that over time he’s going to refine how he’s thinking about it, and maybe some of his critics will start seeing that he has a point around certain concerns about justice and equality, and that’s how we move forward. Sometimes it’s messy, but that’s the way democracy works.