New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees drew sharp criticism from NBA superstar LeBron James and several other prominent athletes Wednesday after he spoke out against the practice of kneeling during the national anthem.
Brees faced immediate criticism after he told Yahoo Finance that he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.” The former Super Bowl champion explained that both of his grandfathers served in the U.S. military during World War II, adding that he views the flag as a symbol of unity.
“WOW MAN!! Is it still surprising at this point. Sure isn’t!” James tweeted in response to Brees’ remarks. “You literally still don’t understand why [Colin Kaepernick] was kneeling on one knee?? Has absolutely nothing to do with the disrespect of [the flag] and our soldiers (men and women) who keep our land free.”
Brees addressed the possible return of pregame protests after the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody triggered nationwide protests. Countless pro athletes have spoken out against racial injustice in recent days.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 as a form of protest against police brutality and racial injustice. Many NFL players and athletes in other sports have taken up the practice in the years since.
In 2016, Brees said he supported Kaepernick’s right to protest but disagreed with kneeling during the anthem because the flag is “sacred.”
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers appeared to reference Brees’ remarks in an Instagram post, noting that kneeling “has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag.”
Brees’ teammate, Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, said he was “hurt” by the quarterback’s remarks.
"Our communities are under siege and we need help," Jenkins said in a deleted video transcribed by ESPN. "And what you're telling us is don't ask for help that way, ask for it a different way. I can't listen to it when you ask that way. We're done asking, Drew. And people who share your sentiments, who express those, and push them throughout the world, the airwaves, are the problem.”
Brees participated in the “Blackout Tuesday” trend this week, sharing a black square on his Instagram account as a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight against racism. The Saints star sought to clarify his remarks in a statement to ESPN later on Wednesday.
"I love and respect my teammates, and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice," Brees said. "I also stand with my grandfathers who risked their lives for this country and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis."