Buttigieg defends Kaepernick, NFL players who kneel during national anthem

South Bend Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegGroup of wealthy Americans write open letter asking to be taxed more The Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck The Memo: All eyes on faltering Biden ahead of first debate MORE (D) defended NFL players including Colin Kaepernick who kneel in protest during the national anthem before football games, telling a reporter that the right they exercise was one he defended while in uniform.

In an interview with TMZ, the 2020 presidential hopeful did not specifically endorse the messages Kaepernick and other NFL players have hoped to spread about police violence in America, but defended the right of players to peacefully protest on the field before games.

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"The way I feel about it is the flag that was on my shoulder when I served represented, among other things, our right to free speech," Buttigieg said in the video.

He added: "You don't have to like it, but one of the reasons we serve was to defend that right, the right of peaceful protest and the idea that we can protest what is wrong with our country."

Buttigieg also targeted President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE, who has been publicly critical of NFL players who kneel during the anthem and called for their firing last year, over Trump's deferment from the draft during the Vietnam War, a subject the Navy veteran has been vocal about in recent days.

"If the president had served, maybe he'd feel a little more strongly about some of those freedoms," Buttigieg charged. "And, I get that there's a lot of strong opinions about this, but that's part of why we served."

The South Bend mayor criticized Trump's avoidance of the draft in interviews, accusing the president of using his wealth and privilege to secure a deferment for a disability, bone spurs, that Buttigieg argues was faked to allow Trump not to serve.

"[T]his is somebody who, I think it's fairly obvious to most of us, took advantage of the fact that he was the child of a multimillionaire in order to pretend to be disabled so that somebody could go to war in his place," Buttigieg told Robert Costa in an interview Friday.

Trump, he added, does not have a disability: "At least not that one," he added Friday.