New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said Wednesday during an interview with Yahoo Finance that he "will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country" -- comments he would come under intense criticism for and would later attempt to clarify.
Brees' initial comments came following a question on how the NFL should respond if players kneel during the national anthem this season in protest of police brutality and racial injustice and what his responsibility is as a leader during a time like this.
The comments were Brees' first since George Floyd was killed at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer last week and came after he posted an Instagram calling for unity Wednesday morning.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said. "Let me just tell what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played and when I look at the flag of the United States. I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corp. Both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place. So every time I stand with my hand over my heart looking at that flag and singing the national anthem, that's what I think about. And in many cases, that brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed. Not just those in the military, but for that matter, those throughout the civil rights movements of the '60s, and all that has been endured by so many people up until this point. And 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. It shows that we are all in this together, we can all do better and that we are all part of the solution."
Brees quickly faced criticism for his comments and attempted to later clarify in an interview with ESPN.
Brees was asked about a "perceived conflict" between his statement and his message on social media. He also was asked if this could create any division in the locker room where players such as Malcolm Jenkins and Demario Davis are leaders in the Players Coalition.
"I love and respect my teammates and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice," Brees said. "I also stand with my grandfathers who risked their lives for this country and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis."
Some of the most pointed criticism came from Jenkins, who signed a deal with the Saints this offseason and was teammate of Brees' from 2009-2013.
An emotional Jenkins posted a 4 minute, 20 second video to his IGTV page during which he directly addressed Brees.
"Drew Brees, if you don't understand how hurtful and insensitive your comments are, you are part of the problem," Jenkins said. "To think that because your grandfathers served this country and you have a great respect for your flag that everyone else should have the same ideals and thoughts that you do is ridiculous, and it shows that you don't know history. 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. They came back to people, to racism, to complete violence."
Jenkins continued: "And here we are with the world on fire and you continue to first criticize how we peacefully protest because it doesn't fit with what you do and your beliefs without ever acknowledging the fact that a man was murdered at the hands of police in front of us all and it has been continuing for centuries. That the same brothers that you break the huddle down with every single game, the same guys that you bleed with and go to battle with every single day go home to communities that have been decimated. Drew, unfortunately ... unfortunately, you're somebody who doesn't understand their privilege."
The video was accompanied by a caption that stated Brees reached out to Jenkins before he posted, but Jenkins published the video because "it's important for anyone who wants to consider themself an ally to know how these words and actions affect those who you want to help."
Emmanuel Sanders, who signed with New Orleans this offseason, tweeted "Smh.. Ignorant."
Green Bay Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers posted an image on Instagram of him interlocked with teammates arms with the caption: "A few years ago we were criticized for locking arms in solidarity before the game. It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag. Not then. Not now. Listen with an open heart, let's educate ourselves, and then turn word and thought into action. #wakeupamerica #itstimeforchange #loveoverfear #solidarity #libertyandjusticeforall #all."
NBA star LeBron James also weighed in on Brees' remarks:
The Saints had no comment on Brees' statements.
Brees emphasized that his actions are what is most important in reference to his earlier Instagram post, per ESPN.
"I believe we should all stand for the national anthem and respect our country and all those who sacrificed so much for our freedoms," Brees wrote in a text message to ESPN's Mike Triplett. "That includes all those who marched for women's suffrage in the 1920s and all those who marched in the civil rights movements and continue to march for racial equality. All of us ... EVERYONE ... represent that flag. Same way I respect all the citizens of our country ... no matter their race, color, religion.
"And I would ask anyone who has a problem with what I said to look at the way I live my life. Do I come across as someone who is not doing my absolute best to make this world a better place, to bring justice and equality to others, and hope & opportunity to those who don't have it? That's what I meant by actions speak louder than words. ... My ACTIONS speak for themselves."
Brees donated $5 million in March to help deliver meals to needy people in Louisiana during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brees' Wednesday comments mirror statements he made in 2016 regarding Colin Kaepernick's protest.
Saints coach Sean Payton on Tuesday tweeted images of Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood earlier this year.