NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints quarterback Drew Brees says he’ll remain standing for “The Star Spangled Banner,” but professed respect and support for those who protest racism and social injustice by kneeling during the national anthem.
“I’ll always stand for the flag because of what it means to me and to honor all those who have sacrificed, who have served and died for our country, and all those who have struggled to move this country forward,” Brees said Saturday in a conference call with reporters to discuss the onset of training camp.
“I acknowledge and respect anyone who chooses to kneel or any other form of peaceful protest to bring attention to social injustice and systemic racism that so many have endured and continue to endure in our country,” Brees continued.
The 41-year-old Brees, who is the NFL’s all-time leader in yards passing, completions and touchdowns, is entering his 20th NFL season and 15th with the New Orleans Saints. He opened the conference call with a statement about his introspection since early June, when he became seen by many as a symbol of white privilege for saying he would never approve of anyone disrespecting the flag by kneeling during the anthem.
Brees faced a scathing backlash from several current and former Black teammates and other high-profile athletes such as LeBron James.
But the quarterback apologized soon afterward and said he realizes now that protesting by kneeling during the anthem, initiated by former San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick in 2016, was never about the flag.
“I recognize that I missed an opportunity that day. I had an opportunity to talk about and emphasize the social injustices that exist for our Black community and our need as country to support them and advocate for systemic change. And my lack of awareness in that moment hurt a lot of people.”
Brees added that he has had many conversations with teammates since then and put closure on anything from the past, and the players are moving forward.