‘If he has the playing ability,’: Trump says he ‘absolutely’ supports Colin Kaepernick’s NFL return

Speaking in an interview at the White House, President Donald Trump said he “absolutely” would support Colin Kaepernick’s return to the NFL. 

In an interview with Sinclair correspondent Scott Thuman, Trump was asked if he felt Kaepernick “should get another shot in the NFL,” to which he replied, “If he has the playing ability. He started off great, and then he didn’t end up very great in terms of a player. He was terrific in his rookie year. I think he was very good in his second year. And then something happened. So his playing wasn’t up to snuff.”

Trump’s comments come as a surprise in light of his previous criticism of the former San Francisco quarterback who took a knee during the national anthem to take a stand against police brutality and racial injustice in 2016.

Politicians, team owners and fellow players criticized Kaepernick, fans burned his jersey, and he was booed even at home. Four years later, his protest is widely viewed as prescient. Global opinion has shifted so much that more people are now vilifying those who attack Kaepernick or misrepresent his stance.

RELATED: ‘Completely missed the mark’: Drew Brees apologizes for comments on kneeling during national anthem

New Orleans Saints star quarterback Drew Brees issued a public apology Thursday, June 4 after he was excoriated by teammates, other athletes and fans for saying he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States.”

That sentiment has been voiced loudly by Kaepernick’s critics and Trump reiterated it Friday, June 5 saying on Twitter: “I am a big fan of Drew Brees. 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 2017, a statement by Trump made headlines when he called on NFL owners to fire players who kneel during the national anthem, while encouraging fans to walk out in protest.

"They're ruining the game," he said during a political rally in Alabama nearly three years ago. 

"That's a total disrespect of our heritage. That's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for," Trump said, encouraging owners to act.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you'd say, 'Get that son of a b**** off the field right now. Out! He's fired," Trump said, to loud applause.

RELATED: 'Do you understand now?': LeBron James says George Floyd's death is why Kaepernick kneeled

Kaepernick’s previous actions have regained attention following anti-racism protests that have erupted around the world in response to the death of George Floyd during a May 25 encounter with a white Minneapolis police officer, who put his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes. 

Following the protests, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell posted a video supporting the demonstrations and encouraging NFL players to “speak out and peacefully protest.” 

While not directly addressed to Kaepernick, Goodell apologized for not listening to NFL players who had previously spoken out against racial injustice in the country. 

“We are listening, I am listening,” Goodell added.

The NFL and its teams have voiced their support for equality and called for change. Players want to see more. In a video released Thursday night, 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and several of his peers asked the league to “condemn racism and the systemic oppression of black people” and “admit wrong in silencing players from peacefully protesting.”

RELATED: ‘We were wrong for not listening’: Roger Goodell encourages NFL players to ‘peacefully protest’

“Without black players, there would be no National Football League,” Goodell said. “And the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff. We are listening. I am listening, and I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family.”

Kaepernick still wants an opportunity to play. A workout in Atlanta last November that was organized by the NFL turned chaotic and resulted in no job offers.

“Colin is a talented football player,” Seattle Seahawks star Russell Wilson said early June. “I remember playing against him; the man could play some football. But he stood up for something far more greater than football. And that’s people’s lives. He was standing up for people that have come and gone and for everyone who is African American and the oppression that has been going on.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.