Another night in America, another night of protests around the country and more clashes between protesters and police. It marks the 11th night of protests since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police last week. Protests are now happening in cities and small towns across all 50 states of America, as well as in many countries around the world.
One of the odder aspects of all of this has been the presence of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees as a central figure.
In an interview with Yahoo Finance on Wednesday, Brees was asked about the NFL's response in 2017 to certain players kneeling during the American national anthem to protest police brutality. His response caused shock waves around the world, and the NFL in particular.
I will never agree with somebody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America...
Is everything right with out country 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, it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together, we can all do better, and that we are all part of the solution.
The response drew the ire of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as many NFL players including current teammates.
Brees later published an apology on his Instagram page, saying his comments lacked awareness and compassion, and declaring himself a leader and part of the solution.
This didn't quite quench the issue with many thinking it was a little too late for apologies, while right wing commentators began to champion his comments, making the division even deeper. LeBron James pointed to this hypocrisy in a Twitter post absolutely rinsing Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham.
If you still haven’t figured out why the protesting is going on. Why we’re acting as we are is because we are simply F-N tired of this treatment right here! Can we break it down for you any simpler than this right here???? 🤦🏾♂️. And to my people don’t worry I won’t stop until I see https://t.co/e4pJ0PvwJj
— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 4, 2020
Meanwhile, ESPN's Maria Taylor summed up the response to Drew Brees's initial apology, saying, "I don't believe that you have to be trolled and dragged through Twitter and Instagram in order to change your mind and realise that what you said was intolerant."
— First Take (@FirstTake) June 5, 2020
Brees has now gone a step further, claiming to have changed his mind about the protests during the Anthem, addressing an open letter to Donald Trump, claiming at last, the self evident truth, that the protests are not about the flag.
View this post on Instagram
To @realdonaldtrump Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, 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. We did this back in 2017, and regretfully I brought it back with my comments this week. 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. We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history! If not now, then when? 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. The black community cannot do it alone. This will require all of us.
It's certainly a step forward, and shows the power of the worldwide protests at the moment, where minds can be changed. Whether his mind been changed through pressure and self interest or genuine debate, it's impossible to tell, but either way, it's the type of message that needs to come from White America for real change to occur.
Naturally Trump has declared Brees wrong to change his mind, though in a slightly more respectful manner than we would have expected. We definitely expected Brees to be referred to as a highly overrated quarterback.
I am a big fan of Drew Brees. 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...
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2020
Meanwhile, the NFL has declared themselves in support in peaceful protest despite outlawing it in the game two years ago under pressure from Trump. Commissioner Roger Goodell has apologied for not listening sooner, though interestingly did not mention Colin Kaepernick at all.
We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter. #InspireChange pic.twitter.com/ENWQP8A0sv
— NFL (@NFL) June 5, 2020