Trump Ranted About Kneeling NFL Players. Obama Praised 'Their Right' To Protest.

Sam Levine
As President Donald Trump’s criticism of athletes who kneel during the national anthem receives widespread condemnation, it’s worth taking a look at how then-President Barack Obama addressed protesting sports figures last year.

As President Donald Trump’s criticism of athletes who kneel during the national anthem receives widespread condemnation, it’s worth taking a look at how then-President Barack Obama addressed protesting sports figures last year.

Trump said Friday that any athlete like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem at NFL games last season to protest police brutality, was a “son of a bitch” who should be fired, unleashing a storm of criticism from NFL players, the league and others.

Almost exactly a year ago, Obama offered a nuanced insight into Kaepernick’s protests.

“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,” Obama said during a CNN town hall in September 2016. “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. 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.”

″I think that it’s also important for us to recognize that sometimes out of these controversies, we start getting into a conversation, and I want everybody to listen to each other,” Obama continued. “I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them 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 that he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot.”

Last year, Trump told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that Kaepernick’s protests were “bad for the spirit of the country,” but that the quarterback had a right to the expression.

Read Obama’s full remarks during the CNN town hall below:

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.  And I think that for me, for my family, for those who work in the White House, we recognize what it means to us, but also what it means to the men and women who are fighting on our behalf.  But I’m also always trying to remind folks that part of what makes this country special is that we respect people’s rights to have a different opinion and to make different decisions about how they want to express their concerns.  And the test of our fidelity to our constitution, the freedom of speech, to our bill of rights, is not when it’s easy, but when it’s hard.

We fight sometimes so that people can do things that we disagree with.  But that’s what freedom means in this country.  And so my hope would be that as this debate surfaces, we’re always reminding ourselves that in a democracy like ours, there are going to be a lot of folks who do stuff that we just don’t agree with.  But 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.  

And I think that it’s also important for us to recognize that sometimes out of these controversies, we start getting into a conversation, and I want everybody to listen to each other.  So I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them 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 that he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot.  

And one of the things that I always say about American democracy is, it can be frustrating, but it’s the best system we’ve got.  The only way that we make it work is to see each other, listen to each other, try to be respectful of each other, not just go into separate corners, and I do hope that anybody who’s trying to express any political view of any sort understands that they do so under the blanket of protection of our men and women in uniform, and that that appreciation of that sacrifice is never lost.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.