Saints quarterback Drew Brees apologized on Thursday for his comments on NFL players' kneeling during the national anthem.
Brees drew heavy criticism from a slate of athletes on Wednesday after saying he will "never agree with anybody disrespecting" the United States flag. Saints defensive back and Players Coalition cofounder Malcolm Jenkins said Brees's comments were "extremely painful to hear," while 49ers defensive back Richard Sherman said Brees is "beyond lost."
"I would like to apologize to my friends, teammates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday," Brees wrote on Instagram on Thursday morning. "In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused."
"In an attempt to talk about respect, unity, and solidarity centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country. They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy. Instead, those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character."
Brees's comments—and the subsequent backlash—come amid worldwide protests following the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25. Floyd was stopped by officer Derek Chauvin, who placed his knee on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd can be heard on video saying, "I can't breathe," multiple times before his death.
Chauvin was fired and then arrested on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The murder charge against Chauvin was elevated to second-degree murder on Wednesday. Former Minnesota PD officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng are facing charges of aiding and abetting murder for their role in Floyd's death.
Brees was asked on Wednesday for his opinion on players potentially kneeling during the national anthem in 2020. He said kneeling during the anthem was disrespectful, citing his grandfathers' military service during World War II.
"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," Brees told Yahoo Finance. "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."
Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas responded to Brees on Thursday and accepted his apology.
"One of my brothers made a public statement yesterday that I disagreed with," Thomas tweeted. "He apologized and I accept it because that’s what we are taught to do as Christians. Now back to the movement!"
On Thursday night, Brees took to social media with a second apology.
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first player to kneel during the national anthem in 2016 as a protest against police brutality and racial injustice. He has not played in the NFL since the conclusion of the 2016 season.