New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees inadvertently showed Wednesday that if NFL games are going to be played this fall, the league better be prepared for a public-relations nightmare that likely won't go away. All because the NFL once treated protesting players as a public-relations nightmare that had to go away.
In response to a direct question from Daniel Roberts of Yahoo Finance, Brees really stepped in it. Roberts asked Brees about the possibility of players again taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality against black citizens. The topic has renewed resonance in the wake of protests that have fanned across the country in response to the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America, or our country," Brees said, before explaining that both of his grandfathers had served in the U.S. military during World War II.
“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 many times, it 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 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 strained to be nuanced, but by conflating protests with "disrespecting the flag," he struck a nerve. His answer echoed what he had said in 2016, when Colin Kaepernick became the first NFL player to protest racial injustice by taking a knee. But in June 2020, the reaction was much different.