Here is what politicians have said about Colin Kaepernick's protest

President Obama, Donald Trump and others have offered opinions on Colin Kaepernick's protest.
Publish date:

It doesn't take much to divide politicians these days, but Colin Kaepernick's decision to protest racial inequality and police violence by kneeling during the national anthem has become yet another point of disagreement. 

Kaepernick's demonstration, which a number of other athletes have joined, has sparked debate over patriotism, racism and respect for the military. Several politicians, of course, have weighed in with their views on the quarterback's protest. 

Here's a comprehensive look at what politicians—including President Obama and one of the two major candidates for president—have said about Kaepernick's protest. 

President Obama

Obama was first asked about Kaepernick during the G20 Summit in early September, and he said Kaepernick was "exercising his constitutional right to make a statement." 

He added: "I don't doubt his sincerity. I think he cares about some real legitimate issues that have to be talked about."

Obama largely played it safe with his comments, though he noted the tradition of athletes speaking out on social issues. 

"I think there is a long history of sports figures doing so," Obama said. "I think there are a lot of ways you can do it when it comes to the flag and national anthem."

I stand with Colin Kaepernick: We won’t — we can’t — just ‘Stick To Sports’

Obama was asked about Kaepernick's comments again during a CNN town hall with military personnel last week. 

“Well, as I've said before, I believe that us honoring our flag and our anthem is part of what binds us together as a nation. But I also always try to remind folks that part of what makes this country special is that we respect people's rights to have a different opinion,” Obama said, adding that protesters should be aware of those who "fight" for the First Amendment. 

"The test of our fidelity to our Constitution, to freedom of speech, to our Bill of Rights, is not when it's easy, but when it's hard," he continued. "We fight sometimes so that people can do things that we disagree with ... As long as they're doing it within the law, then we can voice our opinion objecting to it but it's also their right."

He also acknowledged that protesters have legitimate concerns: "I want [the protesters] to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. But I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who's lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot."

Donald Trump

Trump, the Republican nominee for president, weighed in on Kaepernick in late August. 

"I have followed it and I think it’s personally not a good thing," Trump said. "I think it’s a terrible thing, and you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him, let him try, it’s not gonna happen."

In an appearance last week on The O'Reilly Factor, the celebrity businessman again discussed Kaepernick. Calling Kaepernick's protest "disgraceful," Trump said Kaepernick is protesting the wrong way. 

"He's making a tremendous amount of money. He's making a tremendous amount of money. He's leading the American dream. He's trying to make a point," the GOP nominee said. "But I don't think he is making it the correct way." 

Trump said if he were the owner of the 49ers, he wouldn't be happy with Kaepernick. O'Reilly asked if he would "fire" Kaepernick in that situation. 

"I wouldn't be happy. They are paying him all of this money. And I think what he is doing is very bad for the spirit of the country," Trump said. "At the same time, he has the right to protest and that's one of the beautiful things about the country."

Trump said Kaepernick's protest "offends" him, but he wouldn't directly answer O'Reilly's question about firing Kaepernick. Watch video of the exchange below. 

Senator Tim Kaine (D., Va.)

Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton's running mate, was asked about Kaepernick in an appearance on Good Morning America. Kaine, it should be noted, is the father of a marine. 

“You know, you’ve got to respect people’s ability to act according to their conscience,” Kaine said. “I mean, I’d do it differently. I think if you really thought about issues and this country, you’d do it differently, and when I heard him explain his rationale, didn’t really make that much sense to me. But you’ve got to respect people’s ability to act according to their conscience, so I wouldn’t presume to tell him what to do.”

Amid racial injustice dialogue, Doug Baldwin practicing different kind of athlete activism

Governor Mike Pence (R., Ind.) 

Trump's running mate offered his take on Kaepernick's protest in a brief comment to NBC News in early September. Pence said Kaepernick was "completely wrong," but that he respected the quarterback's right to protest. 

"My late father was a combat veteran. My dad used to say, 'I may disagree with everything you say but I'll fight to the death for your right to say it,'" Pence said. "Mr. Kaepernick has every right to be wrong, but he's completely wrong." 


Senator Cory Booker (D., N.J.)

In an event sponsored by BuzzFeed, Booker said he disagreed with Kaepernick's method of protest, but that he was disturbed by the sharp backlash Kaepernick faced for his stance. 

"People seem to be more outraged by an NFL player taking a knee than the murder or killing of an unarmed black man,” Booker said.

Representative Steve King (R., Iowa)

Iowa Representative Steve King, a Republican, took perhaps the harshest view on Kaepernick's protest earlier this month, calling his activism "sympathetic to ISIS."

Yes, you read that right. 

King, who made the comments in an interview with Newsmax, said Kaepernick was "undermining patriotism" with his protest. He also invoked the religion of Kaepernick's girlfriend. 

"I understand that he has an Islamic girlfriend that is his fiancee and that this has changed him and has taken on some different political views along the way," King said. "This is activism that's sympathetic to ISIS."

Watch King's full comments below: 


Warriors' David West protested anthem before Colin Kaepernick

Representative Loretta Sanchez (D., Calif.)

Sanchez, a Democrat running for one of California's U.S. Senate seats, offered a mild rebuke of Kaepernick's protest. 

"I think our country is a great country and certainly when I hear the national anthem I always stand in respect of our flag and all of those veterans who have worked so hard to give us the freedom so that when we go out we can protest," Sanchez said. "So I would just remind him that this is a great country." 

Representative Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.)

The New York representative took a dig at Kaepernick after law enforcement captured the primary suspect for in recent bombings in New York and New Jersey. 

In a military town, support for Colin Kaepernick and his message flourishes

Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor

The Democratic mayor of Santa Clara, where the 49ers play their home games, released a lengthy statement about the controversy in early September. 

"Sometimes when complex issues become simplified by symbolic gestures and words, true meaning and true purpose can be lost in translation. That happened when Colin Kaepernick decided to sit down for the National Anthem during an NFL preseason game.

In our free society, he has the right to express his view. But because it was an act without explanation, it has become controversial and, by Mr. Kaepernick’s own admission, misinterpreted. So too, I believe, was his choice to wear socks that thoughtlessly demeaned all police officers and his post-game statements about murder and racism that we’re considered disparaging to many good police officers.

When Santa Clara police officers responded by suggesting that they may not work at 49er games, this too was misinterpreted. Our officers work voluntarily at these games to protect the fans and the players. They are not required to do so, despite what the police chief has publicly implied. 49er games and other stadium activities are private events that combine private security with off-duty police officers. Just as Mr. Kaepernick has the right to sit down for the national anthem, off-duty police officers have the right to sit out football games.

However, I wish they would not, even though their participation is voluntary. I believe this act would be misinterpreted by the public, as our excellent police officers would be viewed as taking sides in a debate that is more complex and important than a football game or what they may choose to do with their off-duty time.

The public should know what we in Santa Clara know: we have outstanding officers who for decades have been considered some of the best in our state and nation. We are proud of them and appreciate their service to our city. In addition, they are integral to the success of our stadium. Without their voluntary service which frequently requires them to sacrifice time with their families to work longer days and overtime, the public would feel less safe during games and major events. As Santa Clara’s mayor, I ask the good men and women of our police department to continue their great service to our community by continuing to work at 49ers games and other major events.

Together, we can demonstrate that freedom of speech and public safety are both important and can coexist in our community."

Colin Kaepernick has already secured his legacy, even if he never starts another game

Mike Huckabee

The former Republican governor of Arkansas and two–time presidential candidate called Kaepernick an "arrogant fool" in a Facebook post.

"The $20 million or so that Kaepernick makes every year is over 800 times what the average active duty US Army enlistee makes for protecting his right to be an arrogant fool," Huckabee wrote. (Kaepernick's guaranteed base salary this year is actually $11.9 million.)

Huckabee also took a shot at Kaepernick's abilities, saying he's "not as good as he used to be."

Ben Carson

The renowned doctor turned presidential candidate turned Donald Trump surrogate criticized Kaepernick's protest in an appearance on Fox News. 

"[Colin Kaepernick] disrespect[ed] our national anthem and our flag after so many people have sacrificed so that he could have the freedoms that he has today, so that he could make a very, very good living in this 'racist' land," Carson said. 


Curious about what non–politicians are saying about Kaepernick's protest? See what Gregg Popovich, Jim Brown, Kevin Durant, Mike Ditka and Marshawn Lynch have said about the quarterback's demonstration.