New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is facing fierce backlash from other pro athletes for saying that kneeling during the National Anthem was "disrespecting the flag."
In the wake of his interview with Yahoo Finance on June 3, the longtime Saints QB faced a storm of pushback from fellow athletes for his response to a question about the possibility of NFL players taking a knee in protest of police brutality — as Colin Kaepernick and others did in 2016 — during the national anthem in the upcoming NFL season. Brees said he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.”
Brees went on to compare the sacrifices his two grandfathers made during World War II to those who fought in the civil rights movements of the 1960s.
“Let me just tell what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played and when I look at the flag of the United States,” said Brees, 41. “I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corp. Both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place.
“So 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. And in many cases, that brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed. Not just those in the military, but for that matter, those throughout the civil rights movements of the ‘60s, and all that has been endured by so many people up until this point.
“And is everything right with our country right now? No, it is 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 that we are all part of the solution.”
But Brees was quickly rebuked for his comments by scores of athletes, including Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.
“WOW MAN!!” James wrote on Twitter. “Is it still surprising at this point. Sure isn’t! You literally still don’t understand why Kap 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 question 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! God bless you.”
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers also weighed in on Instagram, writing: "A few years ago we were criticized for locking arms in solidarity before the game. It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag. Not then. Not now. Listen with an open heart, let’s educate ourselves, and then turn word and thought into action."
Jason and Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots called the Brees interview a “disgrace" on their joint Twitter account.
“This is a disgrace! To speak about your grandfathers as if there weren’t black men fighting next to them,” the McCourty brothers wrote. “Those men later returned to a country that hated them. Don’t avoid the issue and try to make it about a flag or the military. Fight like your grandfathers for whats right!”
Stephen Jackson, the NBA champion who was friends with George Floyd, also blasted Brees for the "bad timing" of this comments in a passionate video shared by Bleacher Report.
Meanwhile, as some Saints fans burned Brees jerseys in New Orleans, the QB attempted to clarify his comments in a follow-up interview with ESPN's Mike Triplett.
“I love and respect my teammates and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice,” Brees said. “I also stand with my grandfathers who risked their lives for this country and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis.”
Later on June 4, Brees issued a lengthy apology via his Instagram account:
"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," the QB wrote, "In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused." He continued:
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.
This is where I stand:
I stand with the black community in the fight against systemic racial injustice and police brutality and support the creation of real policy change that will make a difference.
I condemn the years of oppression that have taken place throughout our black communities and still exists today.
I acknowledge that we as Americans, including myself, have not done enough to fight for that equality or to truly understand the struggles and plight of the black community.
I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the black community in this movement.
I will never know what it’s like to be a black man or raise black children in America but I will work every day to put myself in those shoes and fight for what is right.
I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy.
I am sick about the way my comments were perceived yesterday, but I take full responsibility and accountability. I recognize that I should do less talking and more listening...and when the black community is talking about their pain, we all need to listen.
For that, I am very sorry and I ask your forgiveness.
Brees apologized again on Thursday night with a video shared to his Instagram.