New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has apologized for saying NFL players' kneeling during the National Anthem are "disrespecting" America following widespread backlash from teammates and other professional athletes, several of whom have taken a knee before games to protest racial injustice and police brutality.
"It breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused," Brees wrote in an Instagram post Thursday. "In an attempt to talk about respect, unity, and solidarity centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country."
Brees drew criticism Wednesday after he told Yahoo! Finance that he did not support protesting police brutality if doing so involved "disrespecting the flag" by kneeling during the National Anthem. Since 2016, several pro football players, following the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have kneeling on one knee during the anthem as a means of peaceful protest.
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said. "Is everything right with our country right now? No, it is 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."
Brees received immediate criticism, with new Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders calling him "ignorant" and Malcom Jenkins, a safety who returned for a second stint with the Saints after six years with the Philadelphia Eagles, saying in an Instagram post that Brees' comments show he "doesn't know history."
"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 said. ""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."
NBA star LeBron James also criticized Brees.
"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," James tweeted. "My father-in-law was one of those."
Former NBA player Stephen Jackson, who was a longtime friend of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his knee for nearly nine minutes, told the "TODAY" show that Brees is a "smart guy," but that the "timing" of his comments is "definitely bad."
"He knows what’s going on. He's seen my brother get murdered. The world has seen my brother get murdered," Jackson said. "To be that naive and he's a smart guy but to be naive and act like you don't know why Kaepernick was kneeling, it just baffles me."
Brees acknowledged in his apology that his comments "lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy" and said he is "sick about the way" his comments "were perceived."
While Brees said that he "will work every day to put myself in those shoes and fight for what is right," many are not accepting his apology as sufficient and have called it "a PR move."
"Take this for what it is, if you're trying to issue an apology, a press release is not the route. Take your a-- on camera and apologize," wrote Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris. "Then go take some actions forward to show us/yourself that you actually are sorry. Morning @drewbrees."
Jemele Hill, a sports writer at The Atlantic, instructed people to refer to a tweet from Lamar Louis, a brief teammate of Brees' in 2016, as they "process Drew Brees’ apology."
"Drew Brees was once my teammate. Had a long intellectual talk with him in the cold tub once. Drew..... you’re a smart man," Louis wrote. "This ain’t ignorance. This is picking a side and not caring enough to fight for justice because you’re comfortable within your own bubble. Silence is murder!"