Drew Brees Says Reaction to His Flag Comments 'Broke My Heart, It Was Crushing'

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistAugust 1, 2020

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees warms up for an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees expressed regret Saturday for criticizing players kneeling in protest during the national anthem during an interview in June.

Brees issued a prepared statement to reporters at his first training camp news conference:

"Going back to my comment on June 3, to think for a second that New Orleans or the state of Louisiana or the Black community would think that I was not standing with them for social justice, that completely broke my heart. It was crushing. Never ever would I feel that way. Now, I recognize that I missed an opportunity that day. I had an opportunity to talk about and emphasize the social injustices that exist for our Black community and our need as a country to support them and to advocate for systemic change. And my lack of awareness in that moment hurt a lot of people."

During an interview with Yahoo Finance in June, Brees said he would never agree with "disrespecting the flag" when asked about kneeling during the anthem:

Yahoo Finance @YahooFinance

Highlight: @readdanwrite asks @drewbrees what the star NFL quarterback thinks about "players kneeling again when the NFL season starts." @drewbrees: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.” Full exchange: https://t.co/MpCkFyOMed

After backlash from many, including some of his teammates, Brees issued an apology on Instagram, writing that he "missed the mark," and that he would "stand with the black community in the fight against systemic racial injustice and police brutality and support the creation of real policy change that will make a difference."

Safety Malcolm Jenkins was among Brees' teammates who reacted negatively to his initial comments about kneeling, but Brees said Saturday that he has since had positive talks with Jenkins and other teammates as well.

The QB said "all of our goals are aligned." He added: "This is not about me. Our focus as a team and group of leaders is on this season and all the things we can accomplish together for social justice."

The 41-year-old veteran also made it clear that he is no longer against kneeling during the anthem: "I acknowledge and respect anyone who chooses to kneel or any other form of peaceful protest to bring attention to the social injustices and systemic racism that so many have endured and continue to endure in our country."

Kneeling during the anthem was a practice started by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 as a means of protesting against racial inequality, social injustice and police brutality. Several other players followed suit, but the NFL attempted to put a stop to it in the years that followed.

In 2018, owners agreed a rule requiring players to stay in the locker room during the anthem rather than kneel on the field, but it was overturned after a strong backlash from players.

Things figure to be far different this season, as most NBA and MLB players have knelt during the anthem before their games this season, and the majority of NFL players seem likely to follow suit.

That is especially true since NFL commissioner Roger Goodell admitted in June that the league was wrong "for not listening to NFL players earlier." He also encouraged players to protest.