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Russell Wilson on Colin Kaepernick: ‘I understand what he’s doing. For me, I love the flag’

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RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on Tuesday weighed in on the conversation about America's National Anthem following a protest by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Over the weekend, Kaepernick sat in protest during the national anthem for a pre-season game, saying he would not honor a song nor "show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."

Referencing the recent shooting deaths of African-Americans by police, he told NFL Media that his conscience would not allow him to partake in the pre-game ceremony Friday against the Green Bay Packers.

"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," he said.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Wilson was asked about his thoughts on the situation:

"First of all, there's no perfect answer. I understand and respect the cause because there's so much going on in America right now -- so much hurt, so much pain. And ultimately I understand what he's doing. For me, I love the flag. I love the National Anthem because it's an emotional time for me because I'm so grateful I get to play on the football field. And every time I get to put my hand on my heart, it's truly an honor -- you know, the military, for me I think about my family members who have served, and friends -- I train down in San Diego all the time, so I'm around the Navy and I see those guys around. And all they do for our country and the people in Afghanistan and all these people fighting. 9/11, for example, coming up -- that's going to be our first game and I think about all the pain from that. So that's why I stand and put my hand on my heart.

I do think there's always issues in our country. I think ultimately it comes back to love. Like I said to you guys before, it comes back to loving one another and appreciating one another. Understanding that we're not perfect but we need to be equal. And that's from the black community, from the white community, that's from police officers to everybody to all of our military to everybody that we get to recognize and see -- have great appreciation for what this country is based on -- and what it should be based on. It should be based on equality. It should be based on people having freedom of speech -- people can have that decision. And so, I understand what (Kaepernick's) doing. But at the same time for me, I can also think about where we need to go and where our thoughts need to be. It needs to be about love, about caring about one another. And that's for every community, every situation, every socio-economic status. And if we focus on that, maybe something can be change -- and I think that's important."

The national anthem's forgotten lyrics

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 about the American victory at the Battle of Fort McHenry. We only sing the first verse, but Key penned three more. This is the third verse:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,

That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion

A home and a Country should leave us no more?

Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The mere mention of "slave" is not entirely remarkable; slavery was alive and well in the United States in 1814. Key himself owned slaves, was an anti-abolitionist and once called his African brethren "a distinct and inferior race of people."

Some interpretations of these lyrics contend Key was in fact taking pleasure in the deaths of freed black slaves who had decided to fight with the British against the United States.

In order to bolster their numbers, British forces offered slaves their freedom in British territories if they would join their cause during the war. These black recruits formed the Colonial Marines, and were looked down upon by people like Key who saw their actions as treasonous.

As an anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner" has never been a unanimous fit. Since it was officially designated as the national anthem in 1931, Americans have debated the suitability of its militaristic lyrics and difficult tune. (Some have offered up "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful" as alternatives.)

Athletes and the American ritual

The American ritual of the national anthem has always been a crucible for patriotism and protest. It presents a particularly fraught dynamic for sports stars, since sports events are often so closely tied with the rhetoric of American pride. When a highly visible opinion comes up against a highly visible symbol, the result is always incendiary.

Around the same time Jackie Robinson was using his achievements to advance civil rights causes, two American Olympic runners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists in a black power salute during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City as the anthem was playing.

The result was iconic. The reaction was ugly. Racial slurs were hurled at the pair and an article in Time called it a "public display of petulance."

Today, similar criticisms have been leveled against Kaepernick, a biracial Super Bowl quarterback who was raised by white adoptive parents and made $13 million in 2014. He was called "spoiled." He was called far worse in his Twitter mentions.

It's a lot of ire for a gesture with a strong historical and rhetorical precedent.

One doesn't even need to dip into iconic moments in history to follow the trend.

Former Cleveland Cavaliers player Dion Waiters refused to be on the court for the anthem in 2014. And Denver Nuggets player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf courted criticism after he deliberately sat during the anthem in 1996.

In fact, Kaepernick didn't stand for the first two preseason games of this year prior to Friday's display. He wasn't in uniform, so no one noticed. Or if they did, they didn't care.

What others are saying: Rodney Harrison on Kaepernick 'He's not black'

On Tuesday, former NFL player and current NBC football analyst Rodney Harrison caused a stir with his comments on Kaepernick, who is biracial.

"I'll tell you this, I'm a black man, and Colin Kaepernick, he's not black," Harrison said on Sportstalk 790 AM. "He cannot understand what I face and what other young black men and black people face, or people of color face, on a every single (day) basis. When you walk in a grocery store, and you might have $2,000 or $3,000 in your pocket and you go up in to a Foot Locker and they're looking at you like you about to steal something. I don't think he faces those type of things that we face on a daily basis."

Harrison later backtracked, apologizing on Twitter.

"I never intended to offend anyone," Harrison said. "I was trying to speak about my experiences as (an) African American."

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Admire those who risk personal gain

Not all reactions to Kaepernick's protest are negative.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar referenced US pole vaulter Sam Kendricks, who was on his way down the runway at the Rio Olympics. When he heard the national anthem playing, Kendricks, who is a 2nd lieutenant in the Army Reserve, stopped running, put down his pole and stood at attention. He widely was lauded for his nationalism.

But what Kaepernick did, Abdul-Jabbar wrote, is also a sign of patriotism.

"In truth, both men, in their own ways, behaved in a highly patriotic manner that should make all Americans proud," Abdul-Jabbar said.

Abdul-Jabbar goes noted that Kaepernick's stance could negatively impact his career and could potentially cost him millions in endorsements. There's also a chance Kaepernick could be cut from the 49ers, though if that happens, it could be for football reasons rather than social or political ones.

"What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick's choice to remain seated during the national anthem, but that nearly 50 years after Ali was banned from boxing for his stance and Tommie Smith and John Carlos's raised fists caused public ostracization and numerous death threats, we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities," Abdul-Jabbar said. "Failure to fix this problem is what's really un-American here."

Jim Brown: 'I am with him 100 percent'

Like Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown is no stranger to social activism. He founded the Negro Industrial and Economic Union (later renamed the Black Economic Union) to support black entrepreneurship in the 1960s, as well as the Amer-I-Can program in 1988, an organization dedicated to stopping gang violence and helping individuals "take charge of their lives and achieve their full potential."

The former Cleveland Browns running back and Hall of Famer, appearing on NFL Network's "NFL Total Access," agrees with Kaepernick's sentiment, though perhaps not the method.

"I listened to him and he makes all the sense in the world," Brown said. "He's within his rights and he's telling the truth as he sees it. I am with him 100 percent. ... Now if you ask me 'Would I do that?' No I won't, because I see it a little differently. I'm an American citizen, I pay my taxes, I want my equal rights but this is my country, and consequently I don't want to open up for ISIS or anybody that will take away what we've already gained."

Richard Sherman: The 'focus has shifted away from his message'

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who previously has spoken out about social issues, explained his views on what Kaepernick did.

"You can't ever stand against the flag," Sherman said. "A lot of people have sacrificed for it, but there is also a deeper meaning to what he did. He's talking about the oppression of African-Americans in this country, and that has been going on for a long time. I think a lot of the focus has shifted away from his message. ... I think there's also things in this nation that people need to remember and take heed of and also acknowledge.

"This country is the same country that had 'whites' and 'colored' signs on the bathroom. We're still in that country, we're still in that nation. And that needs to be acknowledged and that needs to be changed. There are people with that mentality that still exists, and that needs to change. There are people that still treat people of color with subjectivity. They treat them a certain way. They categorize them. They put them in a certain category.

"There are certain statistics that are put out there to make sure that police profile certain people in certain neighborhoods, and that needs to change. So there is some depth and some truth to what he's doing.

"I think he could have picked a better platform and a better way to do it, but every day they say athletes are so robotic and do everything by the book. And then when somebody takes a stand like that, he gets his head chopped off."