Saints quarterback Drew Brees told Yahoo Finance on Wednesday that he will "never agree with anybody disrespecting" the United States flag.
When Brees was asked about the prospect of NFL players kneeling next year, he said, in part, per Yahoo Finance:
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country. Let me just tell what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played and when I look at the flag of the United States. I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corp. Both risking their lives to protect our country and to 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 ...
"... And is everything right with our country right now? No, it is 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 that we are all part of the solution.”
Brees's comments come amid ongoing protests in the United States related to police brutality and racial injustice. The protests were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was killed in Minneapolis last week after being violently apprehended by police.
Four Minneapolis police officers were fired last week after a viral video appeared to show one of them kneeling on the neck of Floyd, who cried that he could not breathe.
Last Friday, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was was seen on video kneeling on Floyd's neck, was fired and then arrested on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. On Wednesday afternoon, the murder charge against Chauvin was elevated to second-degree murder.
It was also announced Wednesday that former officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng are facing charges of aiding and abetting murder.
On Tuesday, Brees, like millions of others around the United States, shared a black square on his Instagram feed in honor of "Blackout Tuesday," a day that was initially proposed as a day of reflection in the wake of Floyd's death.
On Wednesday, Brees again took to social media to share another message of unity, writing, in part:
A mentor of mine once told me that if you listen closely, the sound of children playing is the same no matter where you are in the world. The laughing, shouting, screaming, giggling… No matter what language you speak, no matter what your race, color, religion… the exact same..."
"... 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. 'Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying'"
But the Saints star wide receiver Michael Thomas appeared to respond to Brees's comments to Yahoo Finance on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.
Newly-signed Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders appeared to echo Thomas' sentiment.
49ers cornerback Richard Sherman also weighed in on Brees' comments, writing on Twitter that, "He’s beyond lost. Guarantee you there were black men fighting along side 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."
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick notably knelt during the national anthem as a means of protesting racism and police brutality during the 2016 NFL season. He last played in the NFL that year.
While Floyd's death has sparked a wave of reaction from other members of the sports world, many athletes' statements have shared an image of the Minneapolis Police Department's treatment of Floyd next to a photo of Kaepernick kneeling in protest.
Kaepernick later filed a grievance against the NFL, arguing that he was effectively blackballed from the league because of his views. The league denied the charge and the grievance was eventually settled.
Last Friday, Kaepernick's charitable arm, the Know Your Rights Camp, launched an initiative to hire top defense lawyers for people arrested protesting police brutality in the Minneapolis area.
Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson recently released a statement on the ongoing protests, saying, in part:
"There are no written words, nor the timing of those words that can properly honor the life of George Floyd. We stand against police brutality in any form. Statements are words; unified action towards a solution is what needs to come from this now...
"And I am proud to announce that these three players will join me in a newly created Social Justice Leadership Coalition, within our organization. I welcome any of our other players to join as well. Our goal will be to advocate for issues of change when and where we are able to in black and brown communities. Hopefully our work will be a model for others. They will have my full support."