Saints quarterback Drew Brees has issued two apologies over the last eight months for tone-deaf remarks and actions that insult marginalized communities. In each of them, Brees apologies for the perception of his words, but doesn’t address why they were problematic in the first place.
You cannot be part of the solution if you refuse to look inward.
The NFL’s all-time leading passer received immense backlash Wednesday for saying he wouldn’t support players kneeling during the national anthem again this season in light of the George Floyd killing and subsequent nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” he told Yahoo!
Highlight: @readdanwrite asks @drewbrees what the star NFL quarterback thinks about "players kneeling again when the NFL season starts."@drewbrees: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.”— Yahoo Finance (@YahooFinance) June 3, 2020
Full exchange: pic.twitter.com/MpCkFyOMed
Brees was widely criticized for his ignorant view, with some of his longtime Saints teammates, including wideout Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara, condemning his ridiculous words. New Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, who came under scrutiny a couple of years ago for cutting a problematic deal with the NFL about supporting social justice initiatives on behalf of The Players’ Coalition. issued one of the strongest rebukes, telling Brees he should “shut the f— up.”
Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins with a message for Drew Brees (NSFW) pic.twitter.com/t9LNV5Tu0u— Carolina Blitz (@KeepBlitzin) June 3, 2020
In a lengthy Instagram apology posted Thursday, which features a stock photo of a white hand interlocking with a black hand, Brees says he is “sick” about “the way his comments were perceived,” and acknowledges his remarks were “insensitive” and “completely missed the mark.” Notably, he doesn’t acknowledge the actual problem with his comments, which conflate kneeling during the national anthem to disrespecting the American flag.
“I would like to apologize to my friends, teammates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday. In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused,” Brees writes. “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.”
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I would like to apologize to my friends, teammates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday. In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused. 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. They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy. Instead, those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character. This is where I stand: I stand with the black community in the fight against systemic racial injustice and police brutality and support the creation of real policy change that will make a difference. I condemn the years of oppression that have taken place throughout our black communities and still exists today. I acknowledge that we as Americans, including myself, have not done enough to fight for that equality or to truly understand the struggles and plight of the black community. I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the black community in this movement. I will never know what it’s like to be a black man or raise black children in America but I will work every day to put myself in those shoes and fight for what is right. I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy. I am sick about the way my comments were perceived yesterday, but I take full responsibility and accountability. I recognize that I should do less talking and more listening...and when the black community is talking about their pain, we all need to listen. For that, I am very sorry and I ask your forgiveness.
While Brees is willing to label himself as an “ally” and declares he’s “part of the solution,” he couches his comments about the anthem protests by saying he was attempting to “talk about the respect, unity and solidarity centered around the American flag.”
Of course, there’s nothing unifying about labeling anthem protesters as unpatriotic, and insinuating they’re disrespecting his grandmother, a military veteran. As 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman points out, it’s offensive for Brees to bring the military into the conservation about protesting for racial justice, especially since there were almost certainly Black men serving alongside his grandfather.
By peppering his apology with words like “misled” and “perceive,” Brees is not taking true ownership of his stance. It’s amazing that any white person who claims to be listening right now could still believe kneeling during the national anthem to protest racist police brutality is disrespecting the country, but that’s what Brees is telling us. It’s almost like taking part in a promotional video for a prominent anti-LGBTQ lobbying group, and then claiming ignorance about their agenda.
But that’s what happened last September, when Brees explained his participation in a video produced by Focus on the Family encouraging viewers to read the Bible. The organization is one of the main anti-LGBT lobbying groups in the U.S., and states it’s clear opposition to homosexuality on its website.
”The Bible leaves no room whatsoever for confusion or ambiguity where homosexual behavior is concerned,” the site reads.
When news organizations began pointing out Focus on the Family’s anti-LGBTQ stance, Brees posted a video statement addressing the “negativity spread” about him in the LGBTQ community.
”I live by two very simple Christian fundamentals, and that is love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbors yourself,” Brees said. “I’m not sure why the negativity spread, or why people tried to rope me into certain negativity. I do not support any groups that discriminate or have their own agendas that are trying to promote inequality. Hopefully that set the record straight and we can all move on, because that’s not what I stand for.”
Here’s the full Drew Brees video statement, as the Instagram version cuts off: pic.twitter.com/CEB6Tb3YBD— Amie Just (@Amie_Just) September 5, 2019
It’s believable Brees isn’t personally anti-LGBTQ. But as our co-founder Jim Buzinski wrote at the time, it’s inexcusable for Brees to say he’s clueless about what causes Focus on the Family lobbies for politically. The star QB has been working with the group since 2010.
But that’s what Brees put out there. It seems as if he believes ignorance is an excuse.
But if white people have learned anything since George Floyd’s killing, ignorance is not an excuse, and words are not a substitute for action. Brees has a long history of charitable work in New Orleans. If he truly wants to be part of the solution, as he claims, he will do more than just provide lip service to the cause of racial justice. He will act.
If he doesn’t, his apology comes across as just another excuse, much like his supposed surprise at the anti-LGBTQ agenda of an organization with whom he’s been affiliated for a decade.