After earlier sharing a message of unity on social media, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees attracted backlash Wednesday when he reiterated his stance on how he will “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America” during an interview with Yahoo Finance.
They were his first comments in the wake of George Floyd’s killing last week. Brees’ remarks on the flag drew a sharp rebuke on social media across the sports landscape, including from Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James.
Brees gave a lengthy response to ESPN when asked about the perceived conflict between his stances — including a potential divide in his locker room, where players like Malcolm Jenkins and Demario Davis are among the leaders of the players’ coalition seeking social justice and racial equality.
“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.”
An emotional Jenkins, in a video that has since been deleted from social media, said he was “hurt” by Brees’ comments and that they were “extremely self-centered.”
“Our communities are under siege and we need help,” Jenkins said in the deleted video. “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.
“And it’s unfortunate because I considered you a friend. I looked up to you. You’re somebody who I had a great deal of respect for. But sometimes you should shut the f— up.”
Jenkins said the video was made just prior to Brees reaching out to him to discuss his point of view, but Jenkins still originally posted it “because it’s important for anyone who wants to consider themself an ally to know how these words and actions affect those you want to help.”
Jenkins then deleted the original video and later posted an updated one, saying “even though we’re teammates, I can’t let this slide.”
On Twitter, James said kneeling during the national anthem has “nothing to do with the disrespect of [the United States flag] and our soldiers.”
Brees was outspoken in 2016 when he said he supported Colin Kaepernick’s desire to speak out against racial injustice but disagreed with Kaepernick’s method of protest during the national anthem.
In 2017 in London, Drew Brees and other Saints players took a knee before the playing of the national anthem and then stood for the anthem prior to a game against the Miami Dolphins. The Saints’ decision was a response to President Trump at the time saying that NFL players who choose not to stand for the anthem should be fired.
Brees has not wavered from that stance of not kneeling during the anthem — though he insisted Wednesday that his actions should represent what kind of a person he is.
“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 said via 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.
“And I would ask anyone who has a problem with what I said to look at the way I live my life. Do I come across as someone who is not doing my absolute best to make this world a better place, to bring justice and equality to others, and hope & opportunity to those who don’t have it? That’s what I meant by actions speak louder than words. … My ACTIONS speak for themselves.”
Brees was referencing his social media post from Wednesday morning, which began with the header, “Words to unite,” and talked about the importance of teaching and modeling to children “what it is to love all and respect all.”
“There is a saying in every locker room I have been in,” Brees wrote. “‘Don’t just talk about it, be about it.’ Acknowledge the problem, and accept the fact that we all have a responsibility to make it better. ‘Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.'”
Brees and his wife, Brittany, have been heavily involved in charitable efforts throughout his 19-year NFL career, including a recent donation of $5 million to help Louisiana during the coronavirus pandemic.
Saints coach Sean Payton offered a passionate stance Tuesday, saying on social media that Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery were “murdered not killed” and calling for change in the November elections.
Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner Gayle Benson released a lengthy statement Monday, decrying police brutality and announcing the creation of a Social Justice Leadership Coalition within both organizations involving Davis, Lonzo Ball and JJ Redick.