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Drew Brees on potential return of NFL kneeling protests: 'I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag'

Daniel Roberts
Editor-at-Large

As social justice protests happen across the country over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, the sports world has taken note. Scores of athletes are speaking out on social media in support of the protests, and many have joined protests in person.

As the NFL gears up for its 2020 season, which it hopes to start on time despite the coronavirus pandemic, many onlookers expect to see players kneel again during the national anthem to continue the police brutality protests that Colin Kaepernick started back in 2016.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, long seen as a leader in the league, posted a black square to his Instagram account on Tuesday for #BlackOutTuesday, and posted again on Wednesday, saying in part, “There is a saying in every locker room I have been in... Don’t just talk about it, be about it. Acknowledge the problem, and accept the fact that we all have a responsibility to make it better.”

But Brees does not support the idea of the kneeling protests returning.

“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America,” Brees said.

Both of Brees’ grandfathers fought for the U.S. military in WWII, he added. “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… thinking about all that has been sacrificed, not just those in the military, but for that matter, those throughout the civil rights movement of the 60s. And all that has been endured by so many people. And is everything right with our country right now? No, it’s 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 we are all part of the solution.”

Brees has indicated the same feelings about the anthem protests in the past. In 2016, he said he supported Kaepernick’s right to protest, but disagreed with the method of the protest, because the American flag is “sacred.” 

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 05: Xavier Rhodes #29 of the Minnesota Vikings reacts with Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints after the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 05, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the response to the George Floyd protests from various factions of the NFL—players, coaches, and teams—has varied.

L.A. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn wrote an op-ed in the L.A. Times, saying, “I’m pissed off and I don’t want to just put out a pretty statement.” The San Francisco 49ers tweeted out a black square and added #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackOutTuesday, but many called it disingenuous. Former San Francisco 49er Eric Reid retweeted it and said, “I think you meant Blackball Tuesday.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also received blowback after he said, “The NFL family is greatly saddened by the tragic events across our country... As current events dramatically underscore, there remains much more to do as a country and as a league. These tragedies inform the NFL’s commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action. We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society." Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills said in response, “Save the bulls**t.”

NBC News summed it all up in a column headlined, “George Floyd protests and Colin Kaepernick are related. But the NFL doesn’t really know why.”

If and when the NFL returns to play this fall, it is likely to be with no fans in arenas at first.

“I think that we will more than likely play our season,” Brees said. “Whether we have fans or not, I think that’s yet to be determined. Could that be a phased approach as we go through the season, maybe no fans to partial fans to full fans? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, but the bottom line is we’ll be ready to play football games come August, September.”