New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees apologized Thursday after drawing widespread criticism for saying that he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.”
“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,” he wrote in an Instagram post (see it below). “In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused.”
The Super Bowl-winning star made the flag comments in an interview with Yahoo Finance on Wednesday, answering a question about whether he would support NFL players taking a knee during the upcoming 2020 season. Brees also said that when he hears the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” he looks at the flag and envisions his grandfathers who fought in World War II. Read his full reply below.
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Coming amid the huge protests around the U.S. and the world over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, his remarks were seen by many as racially insensitive and drew a swift and broad backlash. Among those criticizing him publicly were veteran defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, a former Saints teammate who re-signed in the offseason to play with the team this season.
In an impassioned Instagram reply (watch it below), Jenkins said, “If you don’t understand how hurtful, how insensitive your comments are, you’re part of the problem.”
Laura Ingraham also took flak for defending Brees’ comments on her Fox News show Wednesday. The host who once told NBA star LeBron James to “shut up and dribble” after he criticized President Donald Trump in 2018 was quick to praise Brees’ comments and rip the backlash. ““Well, he’s allowed to have his view about what kneeling and the flag means to him,” she said on air. “I mean, this is beyond football, though. This is totalitarian conduct. This is Stalinist.”
The NFL kneeling controversy dates to August 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started a nationwide debate by taking a knee during the National Anthem before a preseason game to protest the treatment of African Americans and other minorities in the United States. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told NFL Media after that game. “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’s remarks were widely praised and widely criticized — drawing much special attention from Trump, who reignited a long-standing feud with the NFL over the incident and its ensuing discourse. But the protests gained momentum and became a fiery topic throughout the 2016 season and far beyond. Ultimately, the league committed nearly $90 million to social justice causes and refused to call for an end to the kneeling protests.
Here is Brees’ full response to the Yahoo interviewer’s question, followed by Jenkins’ reply and Brees’ apology:
“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 Corps. 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.”
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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. 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. 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.
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