U.S. Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris made an unsubtle dig at NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers during a ceremony commemorating those who perished at Pearl Harbor (video below).
Harris' speech renews the national debate over whether or not Kaepernick's protest against the U.S. national anthem is a principled stance against police brutality or a sign of disrespect to military service members.
On Dec. 7, Harris spoke during the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day commemoration ceremony. During his speech, the decorated Navy admiral drew applause after making a critical reference to Kaepernick's protest, the New York Post reports.
"You can bet that the men and women we honor today — and those who died that fateful morning 75 years ago — never took a knee and never failed to stand whenever they heard our national anthem being played," Harris said.
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The Department of Defense circulated the clip of Harris' speech shortly afterward, adding an apparent sign of approval for his remarks toward Kaepernick by quoting them on Twitter.
Throughout the current NFL season, Kaepernick has protested the U.S. national anthem, citing that he refuses to acknowledge its message of American patriotism so long as police brutality against people of color is tolerated. While the quarterback initially sat during the anthem, he transitioned to taking a knee in later games.
Kaepernick's protest has drawn condemnation from numerous military service members, who assert that his snubbing of the national anthem disrespects U.S. veterans. The quarterback has previously clarified that his protest is not aimed at service members, according to The Huffington Post.
"I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country," Kaepernick told reporters in August. "I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country … this country isn't holding their end of the bargain up, as a far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody."
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Several veterans have expressed their support for Kaepernick's protest on social media, with one former service member tweeting out: "I didn't volunteer to defend a country where police brutality is swept under the rug."
The controversy over Kaepernick's protest flared up once again on Dec. 4, when a group of veterans and police officers gathered outside of a 49ers game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, urging the quarterback not to kneel during the anthem in that particular venue.
Kaepernick ultimately did kneel during that game's national anthem, WLS reports.
Adm. Harris, whose father served during World War II, has been decorated with honors including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star.
The social media reaction to Harris' comments ranged from praise to condemnation, with some Twitter users happy to see the Navy admiral blast Kaepernick, while others believed that he was shaming a citizen for exercising their First Amendment rights.
"Pacific Fleet Admiral Harry Harris just punted Colin Kaepernick down the field, and it was absolutely glorious," tweeted out one social media user.
"You do not get to dictate how civilians protest and use their right to free expression," tweeted out another.