In the aftermath of his controversial comments concerning standing for the national anthem, Drew Brees offered an apology Thursday via Instagram, saying among other things that “it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused.”
He later added, “I am sick of the way my comments were perceived yesterday, but I take full responsibility and accountability.”
The New Orleans Saints quarterback first got into hot water in an interview with Yahoo Finance, which came amid the nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd in police custody.
Brees was answering a question in relation to Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers quarterback who in 2016 refused to stand for the nation anthem in an effort to bring attention to a criminal justice system that he felt wasn’t fair to black men.
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees said in his initial comments. He added that he envisioned his two grandfathers, who both served in the military during World War II, and the sacrifices made by others when he stands for the anthem before games.
“Is everything right with our country right now? No, it’s not,” Brees said. “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.”
Current and former players from around the NFL were upset. Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed posted a video Wednesday evening in which he pulled no punches. Reed began by saying, “I see Drew Brees trying to do his part to bring black folk down...”
And former Eagle and Brees’ Saints teammate Malcom Jenkins posted an impassioned video criticizing the New Orleans quarterback.
Michael Thomas, the Saints’ Pro Bowl wide receiver, tweeted “He don’t know no better" after Brees’ initial comments came out. He posted the following after Thursday’s apology: “One of my brothers made a public statement yesterday that I disagreed with. He apologized & I accept it because that’s what we are taught to do as Christians. Now back to the movement!”
Saints linebacker Demario Davis saw his teammate’s apology for the first time on CNN.
“Hearing Drew’s apology, and that’s the first I heard it ... I think that is a form of true leadership, and I would say it because that’s taking ownership,” Davis said.
“What we had hoped the first time was that Drew would elaborate more on racism and the sentiments of the black community, and he admitted he missed the mark. So for him to come out and say, ‘You know, I missed the mark. I’ve been insensitive, but what I’m going to start doing is listening and learning from the black community and finding ways that I can help them.' ... I thinks that’s a model for all of America, because historically in general, most of America has missed the mark and not hearing the cries. These aren’t new cries that are coming out.”
Davis also posted a thread on Twitter stressing that “accountability and responsibility is the only way to move forward from this” after talking to Brees and other teammates.
“The injustices, systemic oppression, policing, all these things the black community has cried out for, it’s time to become the solution and see real change,” Davis wrote.
Star running back Alvin Kamara echoed those sentiments and highlighted a Fox News host who bashed LeBron James and Kevin Durant for criticizing Donald Trump a few years ago but was more accepting of Brees’ comments.
“This is the reality we live in,” Kamara wrote. "This isn’t about pinning black against white, but more so about the narrative that is created when a black person speaks and when a white person speaks. Pay attention. This is why we protest! This is why we take a knee! To be HEARD. Nothing more.
“I’ve had a day to digest the comments that Drew made. I was disappointed and hurt. We talked and i explained to him where he dropped the ball and he understood. But now it’s time for us to be part of the solution, not the problem. We have to educate to progress.”
Defensive end Marcus Davenport understood that Brees was trying to explain his own feelings toward the national anthem and the flag, not the current protests, but he said he ultimately missed the point.
“I can see points in what my teammate was saying HIS connection to disrespecting the flag,” Davenport wrote. “I agree he should’ve said something on the current police brutality or the current injustices within our system but He spoke his connection to his patriotism.”
Former NFL player and executive Louis Riddick, now an ESPN analyst, said eventually actions will speak the loudest.
Here were some of Riddick’s televised comments on ESPN:
“Many African Americans are expressing authentic pain that goes back hundreds of years and now people are trying to on a global scale draw attention to that, really come up with some policies and practices in terms of how can we correct this going forward," Riddick said.
"How can we all be better and Drew is now trying to take a step to correct what it was he was intending to say, but this is really just the start because right now I think we all need to be less concerned with statements and more concerned with the impact we are actually having on this issue. ...
"A statement has been made and you have to give him credit for doing that. He has awareness. He is listening and is aware. He is not engaging in ignorance anymore like it came off yesterday, but now it is all about your impact. Him and Malcolm [Jenkins], him and the rest of the leaders on that football team, him and Sean Payton, him and the city of New Orleans are going to have to bridge that divide that was created by the statement yesterday, but this is a good first step.”
Rapper and actor Ice Cube, a Los Angeles native who became a prominent voice during and after the Rodney King riots of the ’90s, wrote on Twitter:
“What Drew Brees should realize and every Veteran and Veteran’s family should understand, they didn’t fight and die to make everybody stand for the flag. They fight for the RIGHT to kneel if you so choose. FREEDOM.”