The year 2020 will no doubt be remembered for the massive Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the George Floyd’s alleged homicide by Minneapolis police, as well as for the conversations from all sides of the political spectrum about what protests should look like. Considering the NFL has been a focal point for Black Lives Matter protests — former player Colin Kaepernick famously initiated the controversial choice to kneel during the national anthem at games — some athletes have already talked about whether they will or won’t kneel during the 2020 season. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees sparked controversy when he weighed in about patriotism and protests in June 2020.
But first, some background: In August 2016, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a game. He told NFL.com, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. 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.” At the time, nationwide protests were taking place over the police killings of Alton Sterling, Korryn Gaines, Philando Castile, and others.
Kaepernick’s decision to kneel was viewed by some players, fans, and league execs as being unpatriotic — something Brees has alluded to when discussing protests in 2020.
Drew Brees' teammate, Malcolm Jenkins, called him out
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees told Yahoo! Finance in May 2020 that he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.” He noted that his grandfathers fought in WWII and added that he thinks standing for the national anthem honors “all that has been sacrificed, not just those in the military but, for that matter, those throughout the civil rights movements of the sixties…” Brees added that everything isn’t “perfect,” but he thinks standing during The Star-Spangled Banner shows “respect” and “unity.”
Others took issue with Brees’ stance, insisting that he was missing the point of kneeling and ignoring the problem of police brutality in America. Fellow Saints player Malcolm Jenkins (pictured right) posted an emotional video on Instagram: “If you don’t understand how hurtful, how insensitive your comments are, you’re part of the problem. To think that because your grandfathers served this country and you have a great respect for your flag that everyone else should have the same ideals and thoughts that you do is ridiculous, and it shows that you don’t know history.” Malcolm said not all soldiers — particularly minority members of the military — received a hero’s welcome. “They came back and got attacked for wearing their uniforms. They came back to people, to racism, to complete violence.”
Malcolm took issue with Brees criticizing the kneeling movement. To him, it was a “signal, a sign for help…for our allies and our white brothers and sisters — the people we considered to be friends to get involved.” Malcolm also noted that Brees had reached out to him to talk about the issue.
Drew Brees faced intense criticism over comments about patriotism
Other famous faces also weighed in NFL star Drew Brees’ take on kneeling during the national anthem. Basketball star LeBron James tweeted: “WOW MAN!! Is it still surprising at this point. Sure isn’t! You literally still don’t understand why Kap [Colin Kaepernick] was kneeling on one knee?? Has absolute nothing to do with the disrespect of and our soldiers (men and women) who keep our land free. My father-in-law was one of those.”
Treme star and NOLA native Wendall Pierce tweeted: “My 95yr old father fought in WWII at Saipan risking his life for the United States of America, a country that had little respect for him. When he returned to New Orleans he was denied his right to vote, his right to live where he wanted & most of his civil rights.”
Brees did kneel with his teammates in 2017 before a game with the Miami Dolphins (The team stood during the national anthem). He must have been listening to the recent responses to his comments as well because the quarterback responded to the backlash.
Drew Brees says he 'completely missed the mark'
After the outcry over his comments about kneeling during the national anthem, Drew Brees apologized for his “insensitive” comments on Instagram, saying that they “completely missed the mark.”
“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.” He added that his words “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.”
Brees added, “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.”
Overall, it looks like Brees is dedicated to listening to his peers and learning from them.
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