Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva went on 93.7 The Fan's The Cook & Joe Show and offered his opinion on the fallout following New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees telling Daniel Roberts of Yahoo Finance that he would "never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America."
"I'm gonna blame it on the media," Villanueva said (h/t Steelers Depot) regarding the massive backlash Brees has since received. "The media is always trying to hyper-focus things. Pit people against each other. The media is unbelievably divisive right now."
Villanueva served three tours in Afghanistan as a member of the United States Army, reaching the rank of captain. He has earned the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, among other military accolades. Villanueva has been in the NFL since 2014.
Brees' comments were in response to a query about his thoughts on kneeling protests during the national anthem. Notably, ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt in protest against racial injustice and police brutality in 2016.
Brees said the following to Roberts in part:
"So every time I stand with my hand over my heart, looking at that flag and singing the national anthem, that’s what I think about...thinking about all that has been sacrificed, not just those in the military, but for that matter, those throughout the civil rights movement of the 60s.
"And all that has been endured by so many people. And is everything right with our country right now? No, it’s not. 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 we are all part of the solution."
Brees was met with much criticism, including some from his own teammates such as safety Malcolm Jenkins and wide receiver Michael Thomas. Bryn Stole of the Advocate also captured video of New Orleans protestors yelling "F--k Drew Brees" on Wednesday.
The 19-year NFL veteran offered two apologies on social media, with the first one reading as follows:
"I would like to apologize to my friends, teammates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday.
"In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused.
"In an attempt to talk about respect, unity, and solidarity centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country."
Brees also issued a video apology on Instagram.
"Step-by-step you will see my heart for exactly what it is and the way everyone around me sees it," Brees wrote. "I’m sorry it has taken this long to act and to participate in a meaningful way but I am your ally in this fight."
Some teammates publicly accepted Brees' apologies, including Thomas and linebacker Demario Davis, per WDSU, the NBC affiliate in New Orleans.
Brees is entering his 20th NFL season and 15th with the Saints.