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Obama says Kaepernick is 'exercising his constitutional right'

Posted at 8:55 AM, Sep 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-05 11:55:58-04

President Obama defended Colin Kaepernick while answering questions from the press at the G20 summit meeting in Hangzhou, saying that the quarterback was "exercising his constitutional right."

Kaepernick, who has created a firestorm of debate over his criticism of the national anthem, has said that he will continue his protest of sitting out the anthem at the start of games indefinitely. This weekend, 49ers coach Chip Kelly announced that Kaepernick would be the team's backup quarterback.

"I don't doubt his sincerity," Obama said of Kaepernick, before going on to say generating conversation on the topic was positive.

The conversation Kapernick has generated -- about race, patriotism, sports protest and violence by and against police -- has not been received positively by all Americans.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said one week ago that "maybe [Kaepernick] should find a country that works better for him" and angry fans have posted videos of themselves burning Kaepernick jerseys and other memorabilia on social media.

The union for Santa Clara, California, Police Department officers -- the police who work San Francisco 49ers home games -- said that its members would consider boycotting their duty to police the stadium if the team didn't discipline Kaepernick for his actions.

Santa Clara Police Chief Michael Sellers offered a rebuke of that position on Saturday, saying that "officers are here to protect the rights of every person, even if we disagree with their position," but also expressed sympathy for the union's sentiment.

 

But some high-profile athletes and celebrities have defended Kaepernick's actions, including NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who spoke up in defense of Kaepernick last week by calling him "highly patriotic."

The evidence of support for his views comes in sales of Kaepernick jerseys, which have skyrocketed according to NFL.com, who ranks jerseys according to popularity. Kaepernick is now the third highest ranked individual player in terms of sales, behind Dallas Cowboys' running back Ezekiel Elliott, and New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

He is also now the top-selling 49er in terms of jersey sales, after being ranked as low as 20th, prior to news of his protest spreading, as first noted by San Jose Mercury News.

It remains to be seen whether Kaepernick's protest of the anthem will gain public momentum, but other athletes have joined him in his actions, including fellow NFL players like Jeremy Lane and Doug Baldwin Jr. of the Seattle Seahawks, and Russell Okung of the Denver Broncos.

Seattle Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe knelt during the national anthem Sunday night before a game against the Chicago Red Stars in the National Women's Soccer League, and expressed solidarity with Kaepernick after the game while speaking to the press.

"I'm disgusted with the way Colin has been treated and the fans and hatred he has received in all of this," Rapinoe told ESPN's Julie Foudy.

Obama said, before giving his answer about Kaepernick, that he hadn't been thinking about football lately. The NFL regular season opens this week, and the 49ers are scheduled to host the Los Angeles Rams in a game on Monday, September 12.

Kaepernick is expected to continue to protest the anthem at that game.