Outrage is growing over the refusal of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to stand for the national anthem before games because he believes the United States oppresses African Americans and other minorities.
Kaepernick sat on the team's bench Friday night during the anthem before the Niners played host to the Green Bay Packers in an exhibition game. He later explained his reasoning in an interview with NFL Media .
"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 said. "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."
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Saturday that "players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem."
Rep. Pete King shot back on Sunday.
"Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the national anthem is entirely wrong," King, a Republican Representative from New York's second district, said in an email statement. "It is also an indicator of how low our cultural standards have been degraded that anyone is actually supporting this behavior.
". . . Having an NFL quarterback insult our flag by refusing to stand during the playing of the 'Star Spangled Banner,' adds neither honesty nor intelligence to that debate."
King added Kaepernick's claims of black oppression are overstated and, more controversially, self-inflicted.
"Kaepernick charges that America 'oppresses black people and people of color' even though America has elected and re-elected an African-American President and in the previous eight years of the Bush Administration both Secretaries of State (Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice) were African-American," King said. "And in Kaepernick's NFL the large majority of players are African-American.
"If he is referring to violence against African-Americans, that comes primarily from within the black community itself. If he is reciting the fraudulent Black Lives Matter theme that police are targeting African-Americans, then he is clearly wrong and misguided.
"Not only are more whites than African-Americans arrested and shot at by police (almost always justified), they are as likely to be shot at in individual encounters with police as are African-Americans (again almost always justified). Unfortunately it appears that the big lie of Michael Brown ("hands up, don't shoot") has become an article of faith among cop-haters."
King added America's immigration is a sign of strength in the racial debate.
"Of course America has problems," he continued. "Every country in the world has problems. But no country has done more to address those problems than the United States. That is why so many millions of immigrants from all over the world — so many of them people of color — are desperate to come to America every year."
New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, a black Puerto Rican American, chided his fellow NFL player for making it personal and racial.
"Regardless of how you feel about the things that are going on in America today and the things that are going on across the world with gun violence and things like that: You've got to respect the flag and stand up with your teammates," Cruz told USA Today's Lorenzo Reyes.
"It's bigger than just you."
Cruz's teammate Justin Pugh tweeted his opinion on saluting the flag.
Former Giants running back Tiki Barber, an African American, tweeted his understanding of the statement but with the hashtag #idontagree.
A 49ers fan posted a video burning a Kaepernick jersey in effigy while playing the National Anthem and holding his right hand over his heart, as TMZ reported.
The 49ers issued a statement after Pro Football Talk initially reported on Kaepernick's stand, saying that Americans have the right to protest or support the anthem.
"The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pregame ceremony," the team said. "It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem."
Coach Chip Kelly said Saturday that he had not talked with Kaepernick about his actions or comments but said that Kaepernick also did not stand for the national anthem before last week's game in Denver when he was injured and did not play.
"We recognize his right to do that," Kelly said. "It's not my right to tell him not to do something. That's his right as a citizen."
Kaepernick, who is biracial, was adopted and raised by white parents. He has been outspoken on his Twitter account on civil rights issues and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Kaepernick is not the first U.S.-based athlete to use the anthem for protest. In 1996, NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the anthem, saying the United States had a history of tyranny and doing so would conflict with his Islamist beliefs. The NBA initially suspended Abdul-Rauf for his stance before it was lifted when he said he would stand and pray silently during the song.
Kaepernick said he is not worried about any potential fallout from his protest.
"This is not something that I am going to run by anybody," he told NFL Media. "I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."
Kaepernick's agent did not immediately return a request for comment.
Kaepernick is in competition to win back the starting quarterback job in San Francisco that he lost to Blaine Gabbert last season. He made his first appearance of the preseason on Friday night after missing two games with a tired shoulder. He finished 2 for 6 for 14 yards and added 18 yards on four runs.
Kelly said Kaepernick is still in the running to win the starting job and his protest won't impact the decision.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.
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