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Obama defends Colin Kaepernick’s right to protest

President+Obama+speaks+during+the+third+day+of+the+Democratic+National+Convention+at+the+Wells+Fargo+Center+in+Philadelphia+on+Wednesday%2C+July+27%2C+2016.+%28Marcus+Yam%2FLos+Angeles+Times%2FTNS%29
President Obama speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

President Obama speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

TNS

TNS

President Obama speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

HANGZHOU, China — President Barack Obama Monday acknowledged that for some people it is a “tough thing” to see Colin Kaepernick kneel instead of stand for the American flag and national anthem, but defended the NFL quarterback, saying he was “exercising his constitutional right to make a statement.”

The flag and anthem have so much meaning for many men and women in uniform and others who have defended the country that the style of Kaepernick’s protest may make it difficult for them to “hear what his deeper concerns are,” Obama said.

But he said he would rather see people engaged in the argument than “just sitting on the sidelines.” Obama spoke after a Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou, part of a weeklong trip to Asia.

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Obama initially said that he hadn’t been paying close attention to the Kaepernick controversy, but then delivered a carefully nuanced response, saying that he doesn’t doubt the sincerity of the San Francisco 49ers quarterback and that Kaepernick “cares about some real legitimate issues that have to be talked about.”

If nothing else, Obama said, Kaepernick has people talking about race, equality and discrimination.

Kaepernick’s protest has been a lightning rod for criticism and praise for the past week. He hasn’t stood for the anthem at any of the preseason games, at first choosing to sit and then, last Thursday, kneeling with teammate Eric Reid.

Kaepernick has said police brutality and racial injustice are among the reasons for his protest and indicated that he will keep it up during the regular season that begins Sept. 12 with a game against the Los Angeles Rams.

The reactions to Kaepernick’s protest have been dramatic. Supportive fans have clamored for autographs and sales of his jersey have skyrocketed. Team officials say they stand behind the quarterback and his right not to participate.

But other fans have heckled and booed Kaepernick, and the Santa Clara police union has threatened to boycott their usual security duties at the 49ers games.

Maybe over time, Obama said, Kaepernick will refine his thoughts and some of his critics will start seeing that he has a point.

“Sometimes it’s messy,” he said. “That’s how democracy works.”

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