New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said Wednesday that NFL players kneeling during the national anthem are "disrespecting" America in comments that drew the ire of teammates responsible for catching his passes.
Since 2016, several pro football players, following the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have been taking a knee during the anthem to protest systemic racism and police brutality.
In an interview with Yahoo! Finance's Dan Roberts, Brees said that silent protest is inappropriate — even in light of social unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer put a knee on his neck, pinning him to the pavement for more than eight minutes.
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," said Brees, who has thrown the most touchdown passes in NFL history. Brees is white and 41 years old.
Shortly after the interview aired, new Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders tweeted, "Smh.. Ignorant," which is social media shorthand for "shaking my head."
Malcolm Jenkins, a safety who returned for a second stint with the Saints after six years with the Philadelphia Eagles, posted a video denouncing Brees' comments to his Instagram. Jenkins said that he decided to go ahead with the post even though Brees contacted him shortly after he recorded it.
The safety explained that Brees' expectation that everyone should feel the way he does about the flag, because of his family's military service, is "ridiculous." Jenkins choked up while trying to explain the discrimination black soldiers experienced returning from World War II.
"And it shows that you don't know history," Jenkins said. "Because when our grandfathers fought for this country and served, and they came back. They didn't come back to a hero's welcome, they came back and got attacked for wearing their uniforms."
Jenkins went on to say that Brees' own teammates, who the quarterback calls brothers, take off their helmets and leave the field to return to communities devastated by police violence.
"If you don't understand that other people experience something totally different than you, then when you talk about brotherhood and all this other bulls---, it's just lip service," Jenkins said.
Brees' teammate of four seasons, wide receiver Michael Thomas, also appeared to take aim at his own quarterback.
"He don’t know no better," Thomas tweeted. "We don’t care if you don’t agree and whoever else how about that."
Jenkins, 32, Sanders, 33, and Thomas, 27, are all black.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is white, posted an old photo of himself locking arms with his teammates in solidarity on the field, noting that his decision to do so at the time was met with criticism.
"It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag. Not then. Not now," Rodgers said. "Listen with an open heart, let’s educate ourselves, and then turn word and thought into action."
NBA star LeBron James posted a picture of Kaepernick on a knee, next to an image of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin digging his knee into Floyd's neck.
"This is why," James wrote in a caption. "Do you understand NOW!!??!!?? Or is it still blurred to you??"
James also criticized Brees directly on Wednesday.
"WOW MAN!! Is it still surprising at this point. Sure isn’t!" James tweeted. "You literally still don’t understand why Kap was kneeling on one knee?? Has absolute nothing to do with the disrespect of and our soldiers (men and women) who keep our land free. My father-in-law was one of those."