Drew Brees’ apology for ‘insensitive’ comments not accepted
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) fumbles as he is hit by Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter (99) in the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Jan. 5, 2020, in New Orleans. | Butch Dill / AP

Before we dig into the latest foolish, uncouth statement coming out of the NFL, let’s first look at their consistent behavioral patterns and backpedaling: A pointed question is asked regarding systemic racism and where the NFL or team stands on the issue. An insensitive, privileged reply is given. Then, hours later, a half-assed apology comes via social media—with the help of skillful PR spin experts.

This week’s episode follows the murder of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers—all of them charged, finally—and as the nation is again faced with the realities of systemic racism and the criminality of “law and order” in its current and outdated iteration.

On Wednesday, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was asked to reflect on former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s take-a-knee demonstration during the national anthem as a way of raising awareness to police brutality and racial injustice.

Without pause, Brees said: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States.”

He added that the anthem reminds him of his grandfathers, who served in the armed forces during World War II—alongside African Americans, who could die fighting fascism, yet, couldn’t play in Major League Baseball and were subject to Jim Crow laws back home.

“And is everything right with our country right now?” he continued. “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. It shows that we are all in this together, we can all do better, and that we are all part of the solution.”

As this publication has said, as scores of athletes have said, as Kaepernick himself said, kneeling during the national anthem was not about disrespecting the flag or military. It is about highlighting injustice and police brutality.

And if a piece of cloth is worth more to you than Black lives…I can only say: Shame on you. And shame on Drew Brees.

Sports fans should also see the irony in this.

It was a New Orleans team’s quarterback who said this 55 years after Cookie Gilchrest, a Black football player with the Buffalo Bills, organized his Black teammates—joined by their white teammates—in boycotting the 1965 AFL All-Star Game, set to kick off in New Orleans. The city was too racist, and they would not play.

Their opponents, the San Diego Chargers, also refused to take the field.

“I made a decision then that if the game were to go on despite the absence of the Black players, I would not play,” reflected Ron Mix, a white San Diego Chargers tackle. “I felt I would be wrong in not playing but that it was important for at least one white player to join them, to say we’re with you.”

Brees has not studied up on his game’s history, that much is clear.

After a swift backlash over his comments, Brees took to Instagram Thursday for all-too-predictable apology. He began by saying he was apologizing to his friends, teammates, the city of New Orleans, the Black community, and the NFL community.

“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,” he wrote. “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.”

Kaepernick hasn’t yet responded to Brees’ initial comments but retweeted a post by Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma before Brees’ apology.

“This shows you that there are a lot of people & companies out there right now that will say they stand with us but only do it so they don’t get bashed, not because they mean it,” wrote Kuzma, accompanying his tweet with a photo of Brees kneeling alongside teammates before an NFL game.

It’s often said that actions speak louder than words, but as Brees has shown, that’s not always the case.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.