Drew Brees is done. Whether he meant to or not, Brees has made himself a MAGA hero to the anti-Kaepernick crowd as America writhes in torment over the very issues that cost Kaep his career.
He should just quit while he’s behind. He’s got a Super Bowl ring and a ton of weighty passing stats and a Hall of Fame future, but he’ll never have the New Orleans Saints locker room again. He’s been a pillar in the New Orleans community, but he’ll never lead again. He’ll never regain the respect of the warriors who enter battle with him on Sundays and Mondays and Thursdays. Malcolm Jenkins made that clear Wednesday night in a teary and angry, 4-minute, 20-second Instagram post, the final edition of several posts.
One post underscored Jenkins’ thoughts about his former and current teammate:
"You’re somebody who I had a great deal of respect for. But sometimes, you should shut the f— up.”
“Even though we’re teammates, I can’t let this slide,” Jenkins said in the post he settled on. “Drew Brees, if you don’t understand how hurtful, how insensitive your comments are, you are part of the problem.”
Jenkins, as usual, is correct.
He spoke with anguish and heartache. The post was scathing, and it was accusatory ... and it was posted after Brees called Jenkins to try to smooth the waters Brees roiled with comments as tone-deaf as they were dumb.
As America reeled in its ninth day of protests against police brutality, Brees became the face of white privilege when he told Yahoo Finance: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country. ... What you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart is it shows unity.”
Brees was answering a question related to his leadership role in the context of the turmoil brought about by the 2016 protests of Colin Kaepernick and the recent police-related death of a black man. In the 2016 season, Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem in an effort to bring attention to a criminal justice system that he believed showed little justice to black men.
Brees considers such protesters to be disrespectful and such protests to promote division. Therefore, he considers Jenkins disrespectful and divisive. This infuriated Jenkins.
“I’m telling you my communities are dealing with these things,” Jenkins said, pausing, choking back tears of rage, “and your response to me is, ‘Don’t talk about that here. This is not the place.’ Drew, where is the place, Drew? I’m disappointed. I’m hurt.”
Jenkins won a Super Bowl with Brees in his first of five seasons in New Orleans. He rejoined the Saints via free agency in March, after he became a Pro Bowl player and a social-justice demigod over six seasons in Philly. He was one of the first NFL players to join Kaepernick’s protests during the pregame national anthem. He used his foundation to support communities of color. He met with Congress and he met with district attorneys and he met with police chiefs. He co-founded the Players Coalition, which has partnered with the NFL to funnel more than $44 million to social-justice causes. Campaigning for equality has become his identity.
Jenkins’s post — the final version of several takes, Jenkins said — was unscripted, emotional, completely authentic. The sounds of his young family supplied the background for a man who felt betrayed and attacked. Jenkins seldom swears, but he cussed on Wednesday night.
“The onslaught of s— we have to deal with ... it’s f—ing crazy right now,” Jenkins began.
Crazy, indeed. As the world remained under lockdown in the middle of the deadliest pandemic in a century, on May 25, George Floyd, who is black, was killed by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes as Floyd lay face-down in the street. Chauvin and the three officers on the scene were quickly fired, but several days passed before Chauvin was arrested and charged with murder. The three other officers finally were arrested Wednesday.
The arrests came after days of clashes between protesters and police all over the United States. They came after the protests had spread to all parts of the globe. They came after President Donald Trump emerged from his White House bunker and misused the military and government police forces to frame photo ops.
And then, amid COVID-19, looting, and vigilantes prowling streets, along comes Brees, invoking the service of his U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps grandpas as the reason why every NFL player should salute the flag his way — and implying that Jenkins and other sideline protesters disgrace the symbol and disgrace their military forebearers with their protests.
“To think that because your grandfathers served in this country, and you have a great respect for the flag, that everybody else should have the same ideals that you do is ridiculous," Jenkins said. "And it shows that you don’t know history. Because when our grandfathers fought for this country and served” — he paused, choking with sadness and anger — “they didn’t come back to a hero’s welcome. They came back and got attacked for wearing their uniforms. ...
“And then here we are in 2020 with the whole country on fire, everybody witnessing a black man dying, being murdered at the hands of the police, just in cold blood for everybody to see, the whole country’s on fire. And the first thing that you do is criticize one’s peaceful protest?”
Brees’s stance was made all the more controversial in the context of what other NFL figures have done. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll praised Kaepernick on ESPN.com. The NFL issued a statement Saturday that essentially validated Kaepernick’s protests.
White athletes and coaches and owners from all over the world of sport pledged to listen more to their black teammates and friends and bring about the change for which Kaepernick sacrificed his career.
Brees is not among them.
Jenkins was not alone, even among Saints teammates, in responding to Brees’ comments. Brees’ top receiver, Michael Thomas, sent off a trio of mocking tweets, including one that read, “He don’t know no better.” Thomas also tweeted Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ Instagram post: “It has never been about an anthem or a flag. Not then. not now.”
New Eagles cornerback Darius Slay picked up the baton as well, one of a score or more of NFL players eager to take a shot at Brees. Vocal 49ers corner Richard Sherman tweeted that Brees was “beyond lost.” Retired safety Ed Reed burned Brees’ name with a scathing video diatribe.
As the day wore on, Brees tried to limit the damage, but even then his colors showed through.
“I love and respect my teammates and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice,” Brees told ESPN.com, then dived right back into the pool of nonsensical rhetoric: “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.”
Because, of course, if you don’t worship a song, you demonize the military. Gotcha.
Brees cannot come back from this. Not with Jenkins. Not trying to lead a roster of predominantly black players, many of whom, like Jenkins, supported Kaepernick all along and marched for their lives in the past week.
“I protested against, not against the national anthem, but against what was happening in America, and what the fabric of this country is for, or stands for. If you don’t understand that other people experience something totally different than you. ... Then when you talk about the ‘brotherhood’ and all this other bulls—, it’s just lip service.”
Not every Eagles teammate agreed with Jenkins’ protests. Not every teammate joined the Players Coalition. But no teammate delivered the sort of broadside that Brees dealt Jenkins, twice, on Wednesday. This damage is irreparable.
“Unfortunately, you’re someone who doesn’t understand their privilege. You don’t understand the potential that you actually have to be an advocate for the people that you call brothers,” Jenkins said in his post.
Brees is white. He doesn’t have to understand. He doesn’t want to. Brees’ teammates will understand that; what he is, and what he stands for. Especially his newest teammate.
“While the world tells you that you’re not worthy, that your life doesn’t matter, the last place you want to hear it from are the guys you go to war with and that you consider to be allies and to be your friends,” Jenkins said. “Even though we’re teammates, I can’t let this slide.”