Drew Brees issued a sharp rebuke in a message sent directly to U.S. President Donald Trump late on Friday, saying that he now realizes that players taking a knee to protest was never about the American flag and calling on Trump to stop using the flag to distract from the real issue of racial inequality.
The New Orleans Saints quarterback had been under fire for statements this week saying he still did not support players who took a knee during the national anthem, a protest sparked by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a demonstration against police brutality. Many critics said this action was disrespectful to the flag and to U.S. service members, but those taking part in the protest said it was never a statement about the flag or the troops but only meant to convey a message about inequalities.
Brees issued an apology for his remarks on Friday, leading Trump to take to Twitter and tell Brees that he should stand by his statement. Trump added that there should “NO KNEELING!” during the national anthem.
…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
Brees responded hours later, posting an image on Instagram that read “To President Trump” and calling on the president to stop using the American flag to divide Americans.
“Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been,” Brees wrote. “We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities.”
Brees then admitted that “we did this back in 2017,” appearing to take responsibility for his believing that the players taking a knee were making a statement about the flag. The Saints quarterback said it is time to stop doing that.
“We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform,” he wrote. “We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history! If not now, then when?”
When Brees addressed the team during Thursday’s meeting his teammates saw him in a very emotional state. They could tell it hurt him to hurt them, which mattered. He had tears in his eyes as he apologized.
His actions since then continue to support what he said on Thursday.
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) June 6, 2020
After initially coming under fire from a number of players around the NFL, including some of his own teammates, Brees appears to have smoothed things over with some of the members of the Saints. Saints beat writer Nick Underhill reported that Brees grew emotional and had tears in his eyes as he addressed his teammates and apologized for his statements. Underhill noted that Brees appears to be walking the walk, taking on the message he sent in his apology.