For the first time since 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick whipped up a national firestorm by sitting down during the national anthem, President Barack Obama weighed in on the controversy, using the international stage of the G20 Summit in China to address the situation.
And he sided with Kaepernick's stance. Or lack of it.
"He’s exercising his constitutional right to make a statement," Obama told a bank of reporters on Monday, noting that Kaepernick is among many sports figures who have used their positions to effect change.
Obama added that he suspects that Kaepernick will "refine how he's thinking about it," and "maybe some critics will see he has a point around justice and equality. Sometimes it's messy. But that’s how democracy works."
All the debate stems from Kaepernick's decision to not stand during the national anthem out of his sense of injustices in the United States against people of color.
"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 told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after a preseason game at Levi's Stadium last month. "To me, this is 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."
The biracial player specifically took aim at police in describing what he said is too much brutality meted out against African Americans in this country. He's also been spotted wearing anti-police socks at practices. In turn, some police officers have demanded an apology from Kaepernick. And in Santa Clara, where police escort the 49ers, the union wrote a letter saying their members might boycott the games, NBC Bay Area first reported.
Obama noted that the flag holds symbolic importance to many Americans, especially for those men and women in uniform, and said that it may be a "tough thing for them to get past to what his concerns are."
But Obama added that he believes Kaepernick "cares about some real legitimate issues" and that "he's generated some more conversation around topics that need to be talked about."
What Obama credited Kaepernick most for is his "active citizenry." He said that he’d "rather have young people who are engaged in the argument than people who are just sitting on the sidelines and not paying attention at all."
The president's statements were in stark contrast with how Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump bashed Kaepernick on a Seattle radio station, saying "maybe he should find a new country that works for him." To date, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has not weighed in on Kaepernick's stance.