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Drew Brees draws backlash after criticizing players who protest during national anthem

Drew Brees told one outlet on Wednesday that he associates protesting during the national anthem with "disrespecting the flag of the United States of America."
Drew Brees told one outlet on Wednesday that he associates protesting during the national anthem with "disrespecting the flag of the United States of America."Butch Dill/Associated Press

UPDATE: Drew Brees has issued an apology, calling his remarks ‘insensitive’ and saying they 'completely missed the mark’

Patriots defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty called out Drew Brees after the New Orleans Saints quarterback voiced his disagreement with players who do not stand during the national anthem.

“This is a disgrace!” the McCourtys tweeted Wednesday from their joint account.

With protests taking place across the country following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was killed in Minneapolis police custody last week, Brees was asked how he thinks the NFL will and should respond if players choose to take a knee during the national anthem.

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Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first player to do so during a preseason game in 2016 to raise awareness about police brutality.

Brees, citing his two grandfathers who fought in World War II, said he will “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.” According to Brees, standing during the anthem “shows unity.”

Drew Brees angered many of his fellow players with his comments on Wednesday.
Drew Brees angered many of his fellow players with his comments on Wednesday.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

“Let me just tell you what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played or when I look at the flag of the United States,” Brees told Yahoo. “I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II — one in the Army and one in the Marine Corps. Both risking their lives to protect our country and try to make our country and this world a better place.

“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. In many cases, it brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed.”

The McCourtys took issue with the remarks, arguing that Brees is misrepresenting why players have chosen to take a knee during the anthem.

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Kaepernick, who has remained unsigned since 2017, and others have clarified multiple times that their intent is not to criticize the military.

“To speak about your grandfathers as if there weren’t black men fighting next to them,” the McCourtys’ tweet continued. “Those men later returned to a country that hated them. Don’t avoid the issue and try to make it about a flag or the military. Fight like your grandfathers for what’s right!”

Other professional athletes expressed a similar sentiment.

Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins shared an emotional four-minute video condemning Brees for not understanding his privilege nor his potential to serve as an advocate.

“Drew Brees, if you don’t understand how hurtful and how insensitive your comments are, you are part of the problem,” said Jenkins, holding back tears. “To think that because your grandfathers served in this country and you have a great respect for the flag that everybody else should have the same ideals and thoughts that you do is ridiculous.”

Malcolm Jenkins shared some strong words on social media.
Malcolm Jenkins shared some strong words on social media.Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Wrote Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James: “You literally still don’t understand why Kap was kneeling on one knee?? Has absolute nothing to do with the disrespect of [the flag] and our soldiers (men and women) who keep our land free. My father-in-law was one of those.”

Added 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman: “He’s beyond lost. Guarantee you there were black men fighting alongside your grandfather, but this doesn’t seem to be about that. That uncomfortable conversation you are trying to avoid by injecting military into a conversation about brutality and equality is part of the problem.”

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During the latest episode of their podcast, “Double Coverage,” the McCourtys discussed how many, including President Trump, have misinterpreted Kaepernick’s message.

“If you ever stopped and listened to what he was doing in his true message, it would have never gotten to that point and you would have never talked about the military, you would have never talked about the flag,” Devin said. “You would have understood he was talking about freedom.”