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QB Drew Brees Criticized For 'Disrespecting The Flag' Comment


One of the NFL's most popular players has reignited the controversy over athletes kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is facing a backlash after he implied protesters were being disrespectful and unpatriotic. In 2016, of course, former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the pregame demonstrations as a way to focus attention on police violence against minorities and social inequality. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: During an interview with Yahoo Finance yesterday, a reporter asked Drew Brees about Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick's protests have reentered the national discussion in light of the turmoil over George Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police. Brees was asked about the possibility of NFL players kneeling again when and if the 2020 season starts.


DREW BREES: I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.

GOLDMAN: Brees went on to say how during the anthem, he looks at the flag, thinking of his two grandfathers who fought in World War II, risking their lives to protect the country and to make it better. The words were familiar to anyone who followed the Kaepernick protests. The on-field demonstrations turned into highly charged debates about patriotism rather than discussions about police brutality and social inequities. Those who protested with Kaepernick repeatedly said they weren't against the flag or the anthem, and now Malcolm Jenkins is doing it again. Jenkins is a defensive back who has regularly protested. He recently signed with New Orleans, meaning he and Brees now are teammates. Yesterday, Jenkins posted an emotional video response.


MALCOLM JENKINS: Drew Brees, if you don't understand how hurtful, how insensitive your comments are, you are part of the problem.

GOLDMAN: Jenkins responded to Brees' mention of his grandfather soldiers.


JENKINS: 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.

GOLDMAN: In the wake of George Floyd's death, some prominent white athletes have acknowledged an obvious and potent reality. They don't understand the African American experience. Brees is known as a great teammate who talks about a brotherhood with his fellow players, but Jenkins says Brees' embrace of brotherhood needs to extend beyond the field.


JENKINS: 'Cause when we step off of this field and I take my helmet off, I'm a black man walking around America. And I'm telling you I'm dealing with these things. I'm telling you my communities are dealing with these things. And your response to me is, don't talk about that here. This is not the place. Where is the place, Drew?

GOLDMAN: Dr. Harry Edwards is a longtime sports and civil rights activist. He has some advice for Drew Brees.

HARRY EDWARDS: What would be effective would be for him to sit down and talk to Chris Long.

GOLDMAN: Now retired, Chris Long was one of the few white NFL players to openly support Jenkins and other protesters. Edwards thinks Long has a lesson to teach.

EDWARDS: You simply have to take responsibility and realize that this burden on we the people to form that more perfect union doesn't mean the burden is on those black people to get that done.

GOLDMAN: The burden, Edwards says, is on us all.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.


Bit more on this story. Drew Brees issued a statement on his Instagram account today. He said he wanted to, quote, "apologize to friends, teammates, the city of New Orleans, the black community, the NFL community and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday." He admitted making comments that were insensitive and missed the mark on the issues the country is facing and concluded by saying he recognized he should do less talking and more listening. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on