By Amy Tennery

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Most Americans think San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the national anthem is unpatriotic but support his right to free speech, while nearly half do not think the National Football League should penalize him, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.

The opinion poll found that 61 percent of Americans said they do not agree with Kaepernick, who has taken a knee during the "Star-Spangled Banner" in protest of racial injustice and police brutality.

Explore the polling results here http://polling.reuters.com/#!poll/TM994Y16_4

While Kaepernick has inspired other players to refuse to stand during the national anthem, 72 percent of Americans said they thought it was unpatriotic.

Even so, 64 percent of respondents said they felt the quarterback had the right to protest under the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.

And 46 percent said he should not be penalized by the NFL, which so far has said that there is no specific rule that requires players to stand during the anthem. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said he supports players' right to protest.

Nancy Harms, a farmer in Iowa, told Reuters she strongly believed Kaepernick should stand for the anthem as someone "born and raised in this country." But she said his protest was a fair exercise of freedom of speech.

"I have the freedom of speech also and I say, 'you're wrong'," Harms, 57, added.

Reaction to Kaepernick split sharply along racial lines in the poll.

While some 70 percent of respondents who identified as white said they disagreed with Kaepernick, that number dropped to 40 percent of respondents who identified as a racial minority.

Kaepernick has the right to say what he wants, said Thomas Holland, 72, who identifies as white. He said the protest was disrespectful toward the armed forces.

"There are different ways to protest than to disrespect the flag," said Holland, a retiree from Virginia Beach.

Terri Barbour, 42, who identifies as an African-American, said she supports Kaepernick. She said it was "everyone's individual right" whether to stand for the anthem.

The anthem "was written in a time when we as African-Americans were still slaves," said Barbour.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English from Sept. 6 to 12 in all 50 states. A total of 2,093 adults responded to the poll, including 1,481 people who identified as white and 612 people who identified as racial minorities. It has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 2 percentage points for the total group, 3 percentage points for whites and 5 percentage points for racial minorities.

(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Chris Kahn and David Gregorio)