SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was at the center of a growing controversy Saturday after he sat during the playing of the national anthem before Friday night’s 49ers-Green Bay Packers exhibition game.

While not explaining their player’s actions, the team confirmed that their star quarterback did not join his teammates in standing for the national anthem.

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In a statement, the team said in part — “In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to chose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL.com. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick, who is battling to regain his starting spot, did not fare as well as he looked extremely rusty in his first game action since last November. He completed 2 of 6 passes and generated one first down on three drives in the 49ers 21-10 loss.

In his interview with NFL.com, Kaepernick said his uncertain status on the team would not deter him from social commentary.

“I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Kaepernick, who is biracial, was adopted and raised by white parents. He has been outspoken on his Twitter account on civil rights issues and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Kaepernick is not the first U.S.-based athlete to use the anthem for protest. In 1996, NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the anthem, saying the United States had a history of tyranny and doing so would conflict with his Islamist beliefs. The NBA initially suspended Abdul-Rauf for his stance before it was lifted when he said he would stand and pray silently during the song.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Saturday that “players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.”

OFFICIAL TEAM STATEMENT:

The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem. — Bob Lange, V.P. Communications San Francisco 49ers

Protesting Kaepernick, several fans posted videos to social media showing them burning his jersey.

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