Drew Brees apologized Thursday for comments that were “insensitive and completely missed the mark” when he reiterated his opposition to Colin Kaepernick's kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, drawing sharp criticism from fellow high-profile athletes and others in the wake of George Floyd's death.
Los Angeles Lakers great LeBron James, New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins and former NFL player Martellus Bennett were just some of the high-profile athletes to criticize Brees on their Twitter feeds.
Brees, a New Orleans Saints quarterback who won the Super Bowl in the 2009 season, was asked Wednesday in an interview with Yahoo to revisit former NFL quarterback Kaepernick's kneeling during the national anthem before games to bring awareness of police brutality and racial injustice.
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States,” Brees began, adding that the national anthem reminds him of his grandfathers, who served in the armed forces during World War II. “In many cases, it brings me to tears thinking about all that has been sacrificed, and not just 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.”
Many athletes have repeatedly said the kneeling was not about disrespecting the flag or the military but instead about police brutality.
Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Floyd, a Minneapolis black man who was handcuffed as the officer pressed a knee on Floyd's neck for several minutes.
In an Instagram post Thursday, Brees said he was apologizing to his friends, teammates, New Orleans, the black community, the NFL community and “anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday.”
“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,” he wrote. “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.”
Kaepernick hasn't yet responded to the initial comments by Brees, but he did retweet a post by Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma before Brees' apology.
“This shows you that there are a lot of people & companies out there right now that will say they stand with us but only do it so they dont get bashed not because they mean it,” Kuzma wrote above a photo of Brees kneeling alongside teammates before an NFL game.
Brees has previously said he supports those against police brutality but he does not see the national anthem as the proper forum. In 2017, he participated with teammates who knelt before the national anthem but then stood in unison when the anthem was played.
James, who has been a leader in the social justice movement, said Wednesday he couldn't believe Brees was still confused about what Kaepernick was trying to do.
“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 (American flag emoji) and our soldiers (men and women) who keep our land free. My father-in-law was one of those.”
Former Ravens outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, now with the Green Bay Packers, posted a picture on Instagram of the Packers’ regular-season matchup against the Saints in New Orelans. “Week 3 9/27 ...” Smith wrote.
“Drew doesn’t get it,” former Ravens and Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted. “The fact that he has been around black folks for all of these years and still thinks that way is kind of scary.”
“Drew does great things in the community but it’s worthless if you don’t understand the reality of the people you are helping," Smith added.
Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead IV, who played four seasons with the Saints, tweeted “A foolish person’s words can have serious consequences.”
Ravens running back Mark Ingram II, who spent eight seasons in New Orleans with Brees, quoted an Instagram post by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers that said “It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag. Not then. Not now.”
“THANK YOU for speaking the truth for the oppressed and unheard,” Ingram tweeted. “THANK YOU for understanding the WHY.”
Bennett, who won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots and retired in 2018, posted a long thread saying none of the white quarterbacks in the league have spoken out when it wasn't easy to do so.
“And y'all wanna applaud them for these statements, when y'all crucified every athlete that said something by protesting in the beginning,” Bennett wrote. “Look (I'm) happy they're saying something.. but when they had a chance to make a big play for their black teammates and colleagues most of em remained silent, showed ignorance or didn't say anything of importance when it was really needed.”
Jenkins, who was Brees' teammate when the Saints won the Super Bowl, spent the past six seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles before returning to New Orleans this offseason. He posted a video of himself on Twitter speaking to his teammate.
“Drew Brees, if you don't understand how hurtful, how insensitive your comments are, you are part of the problem,” Jenkins said. “To think that because your grandfathers served in this country that you have a great respect for the flag that everybody else should have the same ideals and thoughts that you do is ridiculous.
“And it shows that you don’t know history. Because when our grandfathers fought for this country and served, they came back they didn’t come back to a hero’s welcome. They came back and got attacked for wearing their uniforms. They came back to racism. To complete violence.”
Brees has said he supports those protesting police brutality but that he does not see the national anthem as the proper forum for that. In 2017, Brees participated with teammates who knelt before the national anthem, but then stood in unison when the anthem was played.
Brees later told ESPN via text message: “I love and respect my teammates and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice. 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.
"And I would ask anyone who has a problem with what I said to look at the way I live my life. Do I come across as someone who is not doing my absolute best to make this world a better place, to bring justice and equality to others, and hope & opportunity to those who don’t have it? That’s what I meant by actions speak louder than words. . . . My ACTIONS speak for themselves.”
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Baltimore Sun staff contributed to this article.