New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees apologized for comments he made Wednesday about his opposition to players kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games to protest police brutality.
As protests over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last week continue across the country, Brees posted a black square on Instagram on Tuesday in support of the protests and added another post that read, in part:
“There is a saying in every locker room I have been in. ... Don't just talk about it, be about it. Acknowledge the problem, and accept the fact that we all have a responsibility to make it better. 'Your actions speak so loudly I can't hear what you're saying.' ”
However, when asked Wednesday about the possibility of NFL players kneeling during the anthem when the season begins in September – as Colin Kaepernick and many others did in 2016 and 2017 and Eric Reid, Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson continued to do last season – Brees cited his grandparents' service in World War II as a basis for disapproving of that manner of protest. Players who have knelt for the anthem, including Kaepernick, have repeatedly said the protests are not intended to disrespect the U.S. military or veterans.
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America,” Brees told Yahoo Finance. “Every time I stand with my hand over my heart, looking at that flag and singing the national anthem, that's what I think about (his grandfathers fighting in World War II). ... Thinking about all that has been sacrificed, not just those in the military, but for that matter, those throughout the civil rights movement of the '60s. And all that has been endured by so many people.
“And is everything right with our country right now? No, it's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together, we can all do better, and we are all part of the solution.”
Reaction to Brees' comments was swift from inside and outside the NFL, with many chiding the former Purdue quarterback for missing the point of the protests.
“WOW MAN!! Is it still surprising at this point. Sure isn't!” Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James tweeted. “You literally still don't understand why (Kaepernick) was kneeling on one knee?? Has absolute nothing to do with the disrespect of (the flag) and our soldiers (men and women) who keep our land free.
“My father-in-law was one of those men who fought as well for this country. I asked him questions about it and thank him all the time for his (commitment). He never found Kap peaceful protest offensive because he and I both know what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong!”
From the Saints, safety Malcolm Jenkins, who was active in the protest movement during the 2016 and 2017 seasons – raising his fist in the air during the anthem rather than kneeling – expressed disappointment in Brees.
“What you're telling us is, 'Don't ask for help that way,' ” Jenkins said in a video on Instagram. “ 'Ask for it a different way. I can't listen to it when you ask that way.' We're done asking Drew. People who share your sentiments ... are the problem. It's unfortunate because I considered you a friend, somebody I looked up to and had a great deal of respect for.”
Brees spoke with his teammates during a virtual meeting Thursday, according to ESPN, and apologized. He also wrote a long Instagram post apologizing for the perceived insensitivity of his views and condemning “the years of oppression that have taken place throughout our black communities and still exists today.”
“I would like to apologize to my friends, teammates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday,” wrote Brees, 41. “In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused.
“In an attempt to talk about respect, unity, and solidarity centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country. They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy. Instead, those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character.”
Saints linebacker Demario Davis, an advocate for racial justice, suggested during a CNN interview that Saints players would be able to accept Brees' apology.
“That is a form of true leadership,” Davis said. “That's taking ownership. What we had hoped the first time was that Drew would elaborate more on racism and the sentiments of the black community. He admitted he missed the mark.
“For him to come out and say 'I missed the mark, I've been insensitive but what I'm going to start doing is listening and learning from the black community and finding ways that I can help them.' I think that's a model for all of America.”
Brees' apology also seemed to satisfy other Saints players, including receiver Michael Thomas, the 2019 AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
“One of my brothers made a public statement yesterday that I disagreed with,” tweeted Thomas. “He apologized & I accept it because that's what we are taught to do as Christians. Now back to the movement! #GeorgeFloyd”
Saints running back Alvin Kamara struck a conciliatory tone as well.
“I've had a day to digest the comments that Drew made,” Kamara tweeted. “I was disappointed and hurt. We talked and I explained to him where he dropped the ball and he understood. But now it's time for us to be part of the solution, not the problem. We have to educate to progress.”