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Buttiegieg backs NFL players' right to protest during anthem: I 'put my life on the line to defend' that

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Thursday voiced support for NFL players who have kneeled during the national anthem, saying he risked his life in Afghanistan to defend the right to protest. 

Asked during a live interview with The Washington Post's Robert Costa about his reaction to the demonstrations, the Navy veteran and mayor of South Bend, Ind., said that he "felt that I was watching Americans exercise a right that I had put my life on the line to defend."

He added that "the point of defending free speech is not that you expect to be perfectly aligned with every speech act that is protected."

"That's a fundamental American freedom," Buttigieg said. "It's a huge part of what makes America, America. And when that same flag was on my shoulder, I didn't think of the flag as something that itself as an image was sacred. I thought of it as something that was sacred because of what it represented. One of the very things it represented is the freedom of speech, and that's one of the reasons I served."

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 became the first NFL player to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality. Players from around the league have participated in the protest in the years since, sparking both waves of support and opposition. 

President Trump said in September 2017 that NFL owners should fire players for kneeling during the national anthem. 

Buttigieg has consistently voiced support for the demonstration, tweeting in 2017 that he was "trained to stand & salute," but that "freedom - including to protest injustice - is the whole point of the anthem, the flag, and the country."

Buttigieg isn't the only 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful to back players protesting during the national anthem. Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) went viral during his Senate campaign last year for defending the demonstrations. 

"Nonviolently, peacefully, while the eyes of this country are watching these games, they take a knee to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it," O'Rourke said at the time. "That is why they are doing it. And I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, any time, anywhere, in any place."

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