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Story highlights

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback has refused to stand for the national anthem

Obama weighed in on Colin Kaepernick which is tied to the treatment of African Americans by the police

(CNN) —  

President Barack Obama said Monday that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is “exercising his constitutional right” by not standing for the national anthem.

“I gotta confess that I haven’t been thinking about football while I’ve been over here and I haven’t been follow this closely,” Obama said Monday during a news conference at the conclusion of the G20 summit in China. “But my understanding, at least, is that is he’s exercising his constitutional right to make a statement. I think there’s a long history of sports figures doing so.”

Slavery and the national anthem: The surprising history behind Colin Kaepernick’s protest

Kaepernick has refused to stand for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before 49ers pre-season games, protesting police violence against African Americans.

Kaepernick’s protests have spurred outrage in certain quarters, with some, including Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, calling for him to leave the country.

PHOTO: Getty Images

Obama took a measured approach Monday, saying that members of the military, getting in harm’s way for the flag and the country, could feel spurned by Kaepernick’s protest, he is also glad that Kaepernick is speaking up.

“As a general matter, when it comes to the flag the national anthem and the meaning that holds for our men and women in uniform and those who’ve fought for us – that is a tough thing for them to get past to then hear what his deeper concerns are,” he said. “But I don’t doubt his sincerity. I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that need to be talked about and if nothing else what he’s doing has generated more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about.”

Obama continued, “But I’d rather have young people engaged in the argument and trying to think through how they can be part of our democratic process than those who are just sitting on the sidelines.”