HANGZHOU, China, Sept. 5 (UPI) -- It was only a matter of time before President Obama was asked to weigh in on Colin Kaepernick's decision to sit out -- and most recently, kneel during -- the national anthem.
"He's exercising his constitutional right to make a statement," Obama told reporters when asked about the San Francisco 49ers quarterback on the president's trip to China. "I think there's a long history of sports figures doing so."
Kaepernick has declined to stand and address the flag during the national anthem at each of the San Francisco 49ers' preseason football games. The quarterback says his silent protest is intended to bring attention to the issue of racial inequality and injustice, specifically the killing of minorities by police. He plans to continue to kneel during the national anthem throughout the regular season.
Obama said he understands why some Americans, particularly men and women in uniform, might have trouble seeing past Kaepernick's chosen form of protest.
"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," the president said.
Obama said he believes Kaepernick's intentions are sincere and that the issues he's addressing are ones worth talking about.
"What he's done is he's generated more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about," he said.
Kaepernick's actions have earned him support and detractors among the military, politics, social media and other spheres of influence. His form of protests has caught on within the world of sports.
Last Thursday, during the 49ers last preseason game, teammate Eric Reid knelt beside Kaepernick during the national anthem. During another preseason game, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane sat down during the anthem. Over the weekend, midfielder Megan Rapinoe, a star for the U.S. women's national soccer team, knelt during the anthem prior to the match between her Seattle Reign and the Chicago Red Stars.
Rapinoe said her gesture was intended to show solidarity with Kaepernick and the issues he wants addressed.
"I think it's actually pretty disgusting the way he was treated and the way that a lot of the media has covered it and made it about something that it absolutely isn't," she told American Soccer Now. "We need to have a more thoughtful, two-sided conversation about racial issues in this country."