The New Orleans Saints reportedly held a 100-minute meeting via teleconference Thursday that featured an emotional apology from Drew Brees and basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal urging the team not to divide from within moving forward.
Peter King provided details in his Football Morning in America column, noting he is "pretty sure" Brees cried during his apology.
What's more, one witness told King that O'Neal told the Saints a message along the lines of "They're going to try to divide you, just like they divided us with the Lakers! Me and Kobe [Bryant], we had a great thing going, but the media divided our team. We could have won five more championships! Stay strong. Don't let the media divide you! Don't let social media divide you!"
O'Neal was part of the Zoom meeting because he was a previously scheduled guest. He discussed meeting with the Saints on NBA on TNT:
The Lakers won three straight championships from 1999-00 to 2001-02 but traded O'Neal to the Miami Heat prior to the 2004-05 season after the big man's relationship with Bryant was the focus of plenty of headlines and speculation.
As for the Saints' meeting, it came during a week for Brees that included incendiary comments, initial praise from the sitting president and a return message to the White House from the quarterback that earned approval from his teammates.
Brees initially said he disagreed with kneeling during the national anthem as a way of protesting police brutality and racism in an interview with Daniel Roberts of Yahoo Finance on Wednesday: "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America." He went on to say his grandfathers fought in World War II:
"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."
He apologized for his comments Thursday:
However, Donald Trump believed Brees should not have apologized and stressed as much while saying he is a fan of the Saints quarterback. In 2017, Trump famously said NFL owners should "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he's fired" if a player knelt during the national anthem.
After Brees' apology and the president's response, the quarterback issued a statement to Trump saying the kneeling is not about disrespecting the flag.
"To @realdonaldtrump. Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag," Brees wrote in part. "It has never been. We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities."
That earned a positive response from teammate Michael Thomas:
All of this came as nationwide protests dominated headlines in the wake of the killing of George Floyd on May 25. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded for his life.
Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, who were the other officers involved in the arrest, were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.