Drew Brees sparked controversy on Wednesday when he denounced kneeling during the National Anthem at football games. The racial tensions following the murders of George Gloyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery made his comments particularly tone-deaf.
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America,” Brees said to Yahoo Finance after being asked about his responsibility to react to these protests as a leader of the New Orleans Saints.
Kneeling during the anthem has been a contentious topic since Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the National Anthem in 2016, but speaking out against it now suggests ignorance and white privilege.
At a time when the United States is divided over whether rioting and looting are acceptable forms of protest, denouncing a peaceful form of protesting is nothing short of ignorance.
At a time when protests have left small businesses reeling, taking a knee during a purely symbolic pregame ceremony should not be controversial.
Surprisingly, many people have actually been defending Drew Brees’ statements. Nobody has told him that he needs to, “shut up and dribble,” like Fox News reporter Laura Ingraham did to LeBron James back in 2018.
There is a certain hypocrisy in conservative America saying that Drew Brees is using his first amendment rights, but taking the knee isn’t. They condemn the riots because the protests would be received better if they were non-violent, while also condemning the non-violent protests at the same time.
Athletes across the NFL took to social media to criticize Brees. Many of these athletes were Brees’ teammates, including Emanuel Sanders, Michael Thomas, and Malcolm Jenkins.
Jenkins, a recent free agent signing from the Philadelphia Eagles, has always been vocal about his support of the Black Lives Matter movement. In addition to raising his fist during the National Anthem, Jenkins has alsomet with Capitol Hill legislators to push for criminal justice reform.
While most of Brees’ teammates said no more than a few words, Jenkins posted a three-minute video on Instagram to explain how insensitive and offensive Brees’ comments were.
In the caption of the video, Jenkins said that Brees had already called to apologize and explain his thoughts. Jenkins chose to keep the video up anyway because he could not let Brees’ comments slide, knowing it was important for anyone who considers themselves an ally to hear.
When Brees condemned kneeling during the anthem, he produced a multifaceted impact. Not only does he create chemistry issues in the Saints’ locker room, but he gives a voice to those who oppose the Black Lives Matter movement.
None of this is to say that Brees is a racist. He has been in the NFL for nearly two decades now and has never been called a racist before now. What it does mean is that ignorance regarding racial equality in America is unfortunately still widespread.
Statements like this are the exact reason that kneeling during the National Anthem is justified and necessary. As long as people are unfamiliar with the struggles faced by BIPOC in America every day, protests like the knee will still be necessary.
He apologized for his comments the next day, but whether the apology was made sincerely or for PR is up for debate. It is very possible that he was just apologizing to avoid further criticism, as opposed to genuinely understanding where he went wrong.
Criticizing the protest and then backpedaling is not the same as never having said it.
Two steps back, one step forward.
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