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Brees told Yahoo Finance on Wednesday that he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.” After waves of criticism, including from teammates and other athletes, Brees apologized for his statements.
Friday afternoon, Trump said that he was a “big fan” of the New Orleans Saints quarterback but “he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag.”
I am a big fan of Drew Brees. I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag. OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high...
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2020
...We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag - NO KNEELING!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2020
Trump’s support of Brees is entirely expected. The president turned Colin Kaepernick’s protests of racial injustice during the national anthem into a repeated talking point in 2017.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said at a September 2017 rally in Alabama.
That comment came as Trump ranted about the NFL and its television ratings and about how penalties for dangerous hits were “ruining” the game.
Two weeks later, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of a game he was attending in Indianapolis between the San Francisco 49ers and Colts after — as expected — numerous members of the 49ers knelt during the anthem.
Brees’ initial comments were also not that much different from what he said in 2016, the last season when Kaepernick was on an NFL roster. Four years ago, Brees said there were plenty of other ways to protest “that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag.”
Protests have not been about the flag or military
It’s worth repeating for the hundredth time that the NFL players’ kneeling protests during the national anthem are not against the flag or the military but against systemic racism in the United States. But the issues have become conflated, especially by those who are against the act of protesting during the national anthem.
Brees made his initial comments when he was asked in a Yahoo Finance interview about the possibility of NFL players taking a knee during the 2020 season as protests of racial injustice and police treatment continue in the wake of the homicide of George Floyd on May 25.
Brees justified those comments by saying his grandfathers served in the military and that he wouldn’t agree with anyone disrespecting the American flag.
“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,” Brees said after he noted he wouldn’t agree with anthem kneeling. “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.”
After numerous athletes — including his teammate Michael Thomas and LeBron James — reiterated that the protests had nothing to do with disrespecting the military and that many black athletes also had family members who served in the armed forces, Brees issued two apologies.
His first came via an Instagram caption next to a stock photo of a white person’s hand clasped together with a black person’s hand. A second apology followed later on Thursday as Brees spoke directly into the camera.
“I know that there’s not much I can say that would make things any better right now, Brees said in the video. “I just want you to see in my eyes how sorry I am for the comments that I made yesterday. I know that it hurt many people, especially friends, teammates, former teammates, loved ones, people that I care and respect deeply.”
“That was never my intention. I wish I would have laid out what was on my heart in regards to the George Floyd murder, Ahmaud Arbery, the years and years of social injustice, police brutality and the need for so much reform and change in regards to legislation and so many other things to bring equality to our black communities.”
Other reaction to Brees’ comments
Brees’ apologies came after protesters took note of what he had said. Chants of “F--- Drew Brees” broke out at a New Orleans protest.
Friday morning, ESPN’s Maria Taylor made an impassioned speech about Brees’ comments and asked if Brees’ heart had actually changed. Her comments came a day after NFL Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe said on Fox Sports 1 that Brees should consider retirement because his teammates will never look at him the same again.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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