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Obama: Colin Kaepernick should 'listen to the pain' he may cause by sitting out national anthem

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President Barack Obama on Wednesday at a town hall addressed controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick and other NFL football players who have chosen to take a knee during the national anthem at games as a form of protest against perceived racial injustice in the criminal justice system.

A military service member, First Lieutenant James Sutter, noted that he believes the national anthem is "a time which ... should be reserved to respect our service members" and asked Obama what his position is on athletes sitting it out.

SEE ALSO: Conor McGregor spent last night smoking joints in New York City

Obama had addressed the controversy before, at a Group of 20 press conference in China earlier this month, but he went a step further on Wednesday.

"I think that it's ... 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 said.

"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."

Obama also defended Kaepernick's right to free speech.

See the athletes participating in Kaepernick's protest:

9 PHOTOS
Colin Kaepernick and more pro athletes protesting during the national anthem
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Colin Kaepernick and more pro athletes protesting during the national anthem
SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers kneels in protest during the national anthem prior to playing the Los Angeles Rams in their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 02: (L-R) Rashard Robinson #33, Antoine Bethea #41, and Jaquiski Tartt #29 of the San Francisco 49ers raise their fists in protest during the national anthem prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Brandon Marshall #54 of the Denver Broncos takes a knee in protest during the National Anthem before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.The Broncos defeated the Bengals 29-17. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Duane Brown #76 of the Houston Texans raises his fist during the national anthem before the game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 18: Kenny Stills #10 of the Miami Dolphins (C) kneels during the national anthem before the game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Philadelphia Eagles players Steven Means (51), Malcolm Jenkins (27) and Ron Brooks (33) raise their fists in the air during the national anthem for a game against the Chicago Bears on Monday, Sept. 19, 2016 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
Sep 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos inside linebacker Brandon Marshall (54) kneels during the national anthem next to defensive end Jared Crick (93) and defensive tackle Billy Winn (97) and defensive tackle Adam Gotsis (99) before the game against the Carolina Panthers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Kenny Britt #18 and Robert Quinn #94 of the Los Angeles Rams raise their fists in protest prior to playing the San Francisco 49ers in their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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"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," Obama said. "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."

The controversy started in August when Kaepernick was seen on the sideline sitting in silence during the national anthem before the San Francisco 49ers' preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. The 49ers quarterback later said he was "not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."

Paul Szoldra contributed to this report.

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