Drew Brees Apologizes for Calling Kneeling During the Anthem ‘Disrespectful’

Drew Brees, the star quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, apologized Thursday after facing intense criticism for saying that he considered it disrespectful for players to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality.

Brees made the initial comments after he was asked in an interview how the N.F.L. should respond if the season were to start and players resumed kneeling during the anthem like Colin Kaepernick did beginning in 2016, when he was the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers.

“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees said in the interview, with Yahoo Finance on Wednesday. He added that when he looked at the flag and stood with his hand over his heart during the anthem, he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II.

“And is everything right with our country right now?” Brees said. “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 that we are all part of the solution.”

Several commentators said the remarks were particularly insensitive, coming from a white quarterback in a league in which three-quarters of the players are African-American yet almost every owner and top team executive is white. Brees, a Super Bowl champion who holds a number of N.F.L. records, is also a major star in a city where a majority of residents are black.

“SMH. You represent New Orleans Louisiana. Don’t ever forget that! #Bottomofthemap,” Tyrann Mathieu, a safety for the Kansas City Chiefs, wrote on Twitter.

Josh Hart, who plays in the N.B.A. for the New Orleans Pelicans, said that kneeling during the anthem was “never about disrespecting the armed forces.”

“It’s about police brutality and racial injustices in our country,” he wrote on Twitter. “This country can’t be unified if African Americans are unjustly killed in the street because of the color of their skin.”

Brees later defended his remarks, reiterating why he believed it was important to stand for the anthem.

“I believe we should all stand for the national anthem and respect our country and all those who sacrificed so much for our freedoms,” Brees told ESPN in a text message. “That includes all those who marched for women’s suffrage in the 1920s and all those who marched in the civil rights movements and continue to march for racial equality. All of us … EVERYONE … represent that flag. Same way I respect all the citizens of our country … no matter their race, color, religion.”

Derrick Bryson Taylor contributed reporting.

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