The United States remains a tinder box of anger, tension and sadness extending from widespread protests of racism and police violence that sprang from the recent murder of George Floyd and centuries of inequality. Somehow, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees made an ill-timed decision to weigh in with a widely-panned disapproving opinion of NFL players kneeling before the national anthem in silent and peaceful protest — largely putting himself on well-deserved blast within the sporting world.
In an interview on June 3rd with Yahoo Finance, Brees was asked his thoughts about NFL players kneeling (made popular by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has seemingly been blackballed from the NFL since 2016 because of his practice of taking a knee against racism and police brutality) once the upcoming seasons starts. He replied with the following comment:
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country. 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. 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.”
No matter how much I vehemently disagree with Brees’ assertion, he is entitled to his own opinion. However, he horribly misread the room and embarrassed himself on a national stage with how he presented his thoughts. Instead of at least offering support in such a horrible time, he was unable to see the trees through the forest with his remarks, which almost immediately came back on him in an avalanche.
Social media almost immediately reminded the world that despite what he had just said, Brees had knelt with teammates during the National Anthem in the past. With a majority of his teammates and other NFL players identifying as Black, it’s hard to fathom how he reconciles his recent comments with the pain and unfairness endured by so many of his peers.
Brees is a 19-year veteran of the NFL with 547 career touchdown passes to his name. He is a surefire Hall-of-Famer and well respected. Despite his accomplishments, he still may not be properly appreciated for his greatness, as I wrote in December. He is widely known for his philanthropy and leadership, which made his recent comments all the more disappointing and called into question his reputation.
It didn’t take long before professional athletes started coming for him. This included teammates such as star wide receiver Michael Thomas:
Also New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins, who really didn’t hold back in a tearful response:
Athletic royalty also took note, as NBA star LeBron James clapped back at Brees:
As the evening progressed, the hits kept coming from other NFL players:
Entitled to his beliefs and convictions, Brees is equally entitled to the blow back he is receiving for his tone-deaf remarks. He deserves his current excoriation, and it remains to be seen how this will impact his legacy. Despite the unfortunate nature of the entire situation, hopefully it may serve, even if in just some small way, as a very visible and valuable example of what so many in this country don’t understand about the toll racism has taken and continues to take. It’s not about the flag or the anthem and never has been. Looking beyond our own experiences and beliefs to understand the perspective of others is uncomfortable, but anyone who can ever be a true ally and agent for change must be willing to take that leap. A football legend has shown he is not ready for this, which is sad for fans and humanity alike.