Malcolm Jenkins is upset, and he has every right to be.
His New Orleans Saints teammate, veteran quarterback Drew Brees, was asked in an interview with Yahoo Finance about how he felt of national anthem protests returning to the NFL this season in reaction to the ongoing protests over police brutality and systemic racism that came to another head with the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees said, adding that he envisions his two grandfathers, who both served in the military during World War II, and the sacrifices made by others during and after 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.”
The 41-year old quarterback has been a strong ambassador for the military since entering the NFL in 2001 with the San Diego Chargers. But the anthem protests were in response to the U.S.'s increasingly glaring issues with police brutality toward its black citizens, a movement that at the time 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was at the forefront of when he took a knee during the anthem.
Numerous players immediately called Brees out, Jenkins especially.
“Drew Brees, if you don’t understand how hurtful, how insensitive your comments are, you are part of the problem” Jenkins said in a video he posted on Instagram. "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 as and thoughts that you do is ridiculous.
“It shows that you don’t know history, because when our grandfathers fought for this country and served, and 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.”
Jenkins, an Eagle of the past six seasons before rejoining the Saints after being released earlier in the year, became heavily involved in both the community and the fight against police brutality and racial injustice while in Philadelphia, highlighted by his role as one of the co-founders of the Players Coalition. He marched with protesters in Philadelphia on Sunday and penned an essay for The Inquirer on Wednesday.
The 32-year old safety, who raises his fist during the pre-game national anthem in his own form of protest, got emotional at various points throughout the 4-minute, 20-second video. Like Brees, Jenkins’ grandfather also served in the military.
“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,” Jenkins said. “And the first thing that you do is criticize one’s peaceful protest?”
Brees has long been the face of the Saints franchise, helping to build them into an NFC South powerhouse with a Hall of Fame resume that eventually led to a Super Bowl title in 2010, which Jenkins was a part of. It was the kind of boost many in New Orleans needed in the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster that much of Louisiana’s black community is still recovering from, which makes Brees’ comments even more baffling in context.
“They’re the same brothers that you break the huddle down with before every single game, the same guys that you bleed with and go into battle with every single day, go home to communities that have been decimated,” Jenkins said, choked up. “Drew, unfortunately...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."
Brees posted the “Blackout Tuesday” square to his Instagram account, then posted the following message Wednesday morning: “There is a saying in every locker room I have been in… Don’t just talk about it, be about it.Acknowledge the problem, and accept the fact that we all have a responsibility to make it better. ‘Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.’”
Still, it didn’t counter what was said on the air.
“I’m disappointed. I’m hurt. Because 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. Even though we’re teammates, I can’t let this slide.”
Later Wednesday, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers posted a message in solidarity that made it clear that the protests from a few years ago were never about the anthem or the flag.