Last week, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees made headlines for his comments about disrespecting the American flag. In an interview with Yahoo Finance, he stated that he “will never agree with anyone disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” referring to players taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality in this country.
These comments were met with immediate backlash from millions of people on social media, including many other NFL players and even Saints teammates Malcom Jenkins and Michael Thomas.
Brees spent the next couple of days on damage control, posting both a written and video apology for his comments on his Instagram, where he admitted his comments “completely missed the mark” and he vowed to be an ally for the black community in the future.
As a sports fan, this was a lot to digest. You have a future hall of famer and one of the most respected and liked quarterbacks in the NFL making tone deaf comments about the American flag at a time where racial tensions are at an all-time high in this country. How did he expect that to go over?
To say Brees got destroyed for his comments is an understatement. Aside from being the target of criticism on social media and on sports talk shows, within hours of the interview going viral, protesters in New Orleans — a place where Brees is essentially a god — chanted “F**k Drew Brees,” a true sign of how hard his words hit even his biggest fans.
Now, I don’t think Drew Brees is a bad guy, and I truly don’t believe he meant his comments in the way they were perceived. But that doesn’t change the fact that what he said hurt a lot of people and completely missed the point of the matter, a point that should be more obvious now than ever before.
Brees is proud of his grandfathers who served in the military, and every time he sees the flag, it is a symbol of their sacrifice to the country. There is absolutely no problem with that. The problem came when he assumed all people see the flag in the same way. And that is precisely the problem with America today.
Contrary to what many people think, outward racism is not the major problem in our country. Of course there are still some extremely racist and intolerant people, but for the most part, racism in its purest form is condemned by nearly everyone.
The issue comes with the millions of people who don’t believe they are racist because they don’t have any problem with people of color, yet they can’t see beyond their own privilege. It’s people like Drew Brees. They think that because America is the “land of opportunity” and the “home of the free” to them, then it is like that for everyone. When in reality, not everyone gets to experience the Hallmark version of America.
The system doesn’t treat everyone equally, and it just so happens that the majority of the people who get the shit end of the stick in this country are not white. Why do you suppose that is?
Well, I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not because white people are smarter, more skilled or more capable than minorities. It’s because America was founded by a bunch of white, land-owning men, who created a system that would favor them. That system remains largely intact today, and people of color have had to fight tooth and nail for any changes to benefit them.
Heck, there had to be an entire civil war just for black people to be considered human beings and not property. And it took another hundred years for them to actually have the same rights as white people in terms of voting and public accommodations.
Today, we are closer to true equality than at any point in our nation’s past, but that isn’t good enough. Our society is still rigged to favor white people, and police brutality and the criminal justice system are only a part of it. The public education system puts areas with higher minority populations at a disadvantage. It’s also harder for people of color to get good health care or afford housing in developed neighborhoods.
So as you can see, not everyone looks at the American flag and sees a sign of sacrifice for the greatest country in the world. Some see a sign of a culture with a vast history of racial discrimination that after 400 years, still hasn’t been completely fixed.
When Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the National Anthem in 2016, he made it clear that it wasn’t about the flag and it wasn’t about disrespecting the military. It was about raising awareness for and peacefully protesting police brutality and racial injustice. So when Brees implored his colleagues to respect the flag, he, like so many others, completely missed the point of the protests, and that’s an issue.
I give Brees credit for his heartfelt apologies, and I especially give him credit for standing up to Donald Trump after the president ridiculed him for changing his stance on the kneeling. While I can’t say I’m convinced that Brees’s epiphany wasn’t a result of getting crucified rather than a true change of heart, at least he was willing to take responsibility for his comments and admit he messed up, something neither the president nor his devout followers have figured out how to do.
I hope his apology was as genuine as it seemed, and I hope he will use his platform like so many other athletes to try to inspire true change in this country. But make no mistake, people like Drew Brees, who can’t see past their own privilege to stand — or in this case kneel — with people of color, are part of the problem and must educate themselves