As President Trump reminded us earlier this month, he is still very much opposed to kneeling during the national anthem. On Wednesday, he reminded us he’s also not opposed to Colin Kaepernick returning to the NFL.

Asked Wednesday at the White House if Kaepernick “should get another shot in the NFL,” Trump replied, “If he deserves it, he should. If he has the playing ability. He started off great and then he didn’t end up very great, in terms as a player.

“He was terrific in his rookie year, I think he was very good in his second year, and then something happened,” the president told Sinclair Broadcast Group. Kaepernick, a second-round pick in 2011 by the San Francisco 49ers, played in just three games and attempted just five passes as a rookie, but took over as the team’s starting quarterback midway through his second season and led it on a Super Bowl run.

In his third season, his first as a full-time starter, Kaepernick led San Francisco to a second straight appearance in the NFC championship game, but the upward trajectory of his career stalled in 2014. Under a new head coach the following season, Jim Tomsula, he struggled on the field, was benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert and underwent shoulder surgery.

Two more surgical procedures that offseason contributed to Kaepernick failing to win back his starting job to begin the 2016 season, but by then he was making national headlines for being the first NFL player to kneel during the anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice. Starting in his presidential campaign and continuing after he took office, Trump was a frequent and vehement critic of those protests, at one point exclaiming at a rally that if “somebody disrespects our flag” NFL owners should say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired!”

Meanwhile, Kaepernick was given the chance to start the 49ers’ final 11 games of the 2016 season, and while the team went 1-10 in those games en route to a 2-14 season, he posted solid numbers, including 16 touchdown passes against four interceptions, a 90.7 passer rating and 468 yards rushing on 69 attempts, a 6.8 yard average. When Kaepernick became a free agent in 2017, though, he found little interest from NFL teams and has remained out of the league since then.

“So, his playing wasn’t up to snuff,” Trump said Wednesday of Kaepernick. “The answer is absolutely I would, as far as kneeling, I would love to see him get another shot. But obviously, he has to be able to play well. If he can’t play well, I think it would be very unfair.”

Those comments echoed remarks made by Trump in August of 2019, when he said Kaepernick should get a chance to play in the NFL “if he’s good enough.”

Referring then to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, with whom he has a friendly relationship, Trump added, “I know these people [NFL owners]. They would sign him in a heartbeat. They will do anything they can to win games. So I’d like to see it.

“Frankly, I’d love to see Kaepernick come in, if he’s good enough. But I don’t want to see him come in because somebody thinks it’s a good PR move. If he’s good enough, he will be in.”

Those remarks did not help Kaepernick earn consideration from NFL teams during the 2019 season, apart from a workout in November that raised questions about the league’s motivations in initially offering to stage it. However, the national climate has changed greatly since then, with the killing of George Floyd while in police custody sparking nationwide demonstrations on the very issues to which Kaepernick had sought to bring attention.

Speculation that NFL owners may be less fearful now of a backlash to potentially signing Kaepernick was bolstered by a recent poll indicating that a majority of Americans have come to support the right of players to protest during the anthem. Glimmers of interest in the quarterback are emerging from the league, with Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll saying last week that another NFL team asked him for his thoughts on Kaepernick, and Los Angeles Chargers Coach Anthony Lynn saying Wednesday “it would be crazy” for teams not to at least have Kaepernick on a list of quarterbacks to possibly bring in for a workout.

Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has chimed in, claiming Monday that he would “support” and “encourage” a team to sign Kaepernick. That came after Goodell said in a statement earlier this month that he and other NFL officials “condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people … [and] believe black lives matter.”

In response to Goodell’s statement of support this month for players in his league who have been pushing for social change, Trump wondered on Twitter if the commissioner was “intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?”

That tweet came after the president used his social-media reach to criticize New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees, who had apologized for asserting that he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.”

“I am a big fan of Drew Brees,” Trump wrote on Twitter on June 5. “I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag. OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high. We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag — NO KNEELING!”

In his comments to Sinclair, Trump expanded on his criticism last week of the U.S. Soccer Federation for rescinding its 2017 policy requiring players to “stand respectfully” during the national anthem.

“You have to show respect. There are plenty of places and plenty of things you can protest,” he said Wednesday. “I was very disappointed in the NFL, when they came out with the statement. I was very disappointed in U.S. Soccer.

“We support U.S. Soccer, and now they go out and say that you can do whatever you want. No, we have to show respect for our flag and for our national anthem.”

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