New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees apologized on Thursday following backlash to his comments "that kneeling during the playing of the national anthem is a sign of disrespect."
"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," Brees wrote on Instagram.
"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."
When asked Wednesday by Dan White of Yahoo! Finance about the potential of players returning to the form of protest against police brutality and anti-Black racism, first used in 2016 by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in the wake of nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd, the 41-year-old Brees said he still considers it an act of disregard for the sacrifices of those in the military and the civil rights movement.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said. "Let me just tell you 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, it brings me to tears thinking about all that's been sacrificed and not by just those in the military for that matter, but those throughout the civil rights movement of the '60s and everyone and all that's been endured by so many people up until this point."
Brees added that things need to change in the United States, but that standing for the anthem can be a sign of togetherness.
"Is everything right with our country right now?" Brees said. "No, it's not. We still have a long way to go. But what I think what you do by standing there and showing respect for the flag with your hand over your heart is that it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better and we are all in this together."
Brees' comments on Wednesday quickly drew criticism from fellow Saints, NFL players and other athletes. Two of Brees's teammates, wide receivers Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, seemed to express displeasure with their QB's remarks on Twitter, but didn't call out Brees by name.
Smh.. Ignorant— Emmanuel Sanders (@ESanders_10) June 3, 2020
"[Shaking my head]...ignorant," Sanders wrote.
We don’t care if you don’t agree and whoever else how about that.— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) June 3, 2020
"We don't care if you don't agree and whoever else how about that," Thomas tweeted.
Aaron Rodgers took to Instagram to share his thought's on Brees' comments.
"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."
Veteran San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman also weighed in on Brees's remarks.
He’s beyond lost. Guarantee you there were black men fighting along side your grandfather but this doesn’t seem to be about that. That uncomfortable conversation you are trying to avoid by injecting military into a conversation about brutality and equality is part of the problem https://t.co/ON81UsOWPw pic.twitter.com/HH3EVTIH8p— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) June 3, 2020
"He’s beyond lost," Sherman tweeted. "Guarantee you there were Black men fighting along side your grandfather, but this doesn’t seem to be about that. That uncomfortable conversation you are trying to avoid by injecting military into a conversation about brutality and equality is part of the problem."
Later on Wednesday, LeBron James reacted to Brees's interview.
WOW MAN!! 🤦🏾♂️. 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 🇺🇸 and our soldiers(men and women) who keep our land free. My father-in-law was one of those https://t.co/pvUWPmh4s8— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 3, 2020
"Wow, man!!" James wrote. " 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 🇺🇸 and our soldiers (men and women) who keep our land free. My father-in-law was one of those."