During a Q&A session at the G20 Summit in China, President Barack Obama praised NFL player Colin Kaepernick for exercising his right to free speech and being an “active citizen”.
As you probably know, Colin Kaepernick is the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who has refused to stand for the national anthem in protest of racism in America. A week later, his actions have now inspired other players to join him. You can read his comments on the issue in our previous posts.
And, while many saw this as a controversy primarily contained within the NFL community, it’s now been officially addressed by the Executive Branch of the U.S. government.
You can see the President’s comment in the following video from AP (or read our transcription below):
“In terms of Mr Kaepernick, I’ve got to 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 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’s 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 generate more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about… 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.”
This question comes at an interesting time for the President, who’s been somewhat at odds with the Chinese government recently over the issue of censorship. In general, it’s been a rather contentious trip to say the least.
When President Obama first disembarked from Airforce One, several members of the administration found themselves being literally pushed around by Chinese government officials. One Chinese representative attempted to block National Security Adviser Susan Rice from accessing President Obama on the tarmac. Later, this same security force refused to let White House and journalists into a press conference, insisting the US was “only allowed 10” people.
The President made light of the confusion during his Q&A:
“We think it’s important that the press have access to the work that we’re doing. That they have the ability to answer questions. We don’t leave our values and ideals behind when we take these trips… When I bring up issues like human rights, there are some tensions there that perhaps don’t take place when President Xi meets with other leaders.”
Of course, not all of the Chinese administrators were as stand-offish. One Chinese staffer tasked with assisting the President Obama’s almost came to blows with the security official over their poor treatment of the US delegation.
“You don’t push people,” the staffer yelled. “No one gave you the right to touch or push anyone around.”