After Drew Brees apologized for saying earlier this week that he will "never agree" with players kneeling during the national anthem as a form of protest against police brutality, he faced a new wave of backlash — from President Trump. Now, Brees is standing his ground, and has told Trump in an Instagram post that "we need to listen and learn" about racial injustice.
In an interview with Yahoo Finance on Wednesday, the New Orleans Saints quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," referring to the NFL players who knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality. Brees added that the Anthem reminds him of what his grandfathers risked when they served in the military during World War II.
"Is everything right with our country right now? No, it's not," Brees said. "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 apologized for the remarks on Friday, writing in an Instagram post that his "comments were insensitive and completely missed the mark."
Soon after, Mr. Trump tweeted that Brees shouldn't have apologized.
"I think he's truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag. OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high," Mr. Trump tweeted. "We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag - NO KNEELING!"
Brees again took to social media on Saturday to respond to Mr. Trump's criticism, saying he has ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community. Now, he said, "I realize this is not an issue about the American flag."
"It has never been. We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities," he said. "We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform."
Brees added that "we are at a critical juncture" in history.
"We as a white community need to listen and learn from the pain and suffering of our black communities. We must acknowledge the problems, identify the solutions, and then put this into action," he wrote. "The black community cannot do it alone. This will require all of us."
On Saturday, the Trump campaign emailed a petition to campaign supporters, reiterating that the "American Flag should be respected."
"Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply UN-AMERICAN!" the email said. "President Trump wants to send the left a message that protesting the American Flag is absolutely unacceptable, but he can't do it without you."