President Donald Trump said Friday that Saints quarterback Drew Brees should not have apologized for his comments regarding NFL players kneeling for the national anthem.
Brees apologized twice on Thursday—first in the form of text post shared on Instagram and second in the form of on-camera remarks shared to Instagram—for saying that he would "never agree with anybody disrespecting" the United States flag.
Trump said on Twitter that he's a "big fan" of Brees, but added that the quarterback "should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag. OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high.
"We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag - NO KNEELING!"
More than six hours later, Brees responded to Trump's message via an Instagram post, explaining that he's learned from his mistakes and that the issue should not be focused on the American flag.
"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?"
A number of Brees's teammates as well as others from around the sports world criticized the quarterback for his initial remarks. However, Fox News host Laura Ingraham defended the Saints' QB, saying, "He's allowed to have his view about what kneeling and the flag means to him. He's a person." Ingraham's comments drew ire from a number of figures, including from NBA star LeBron James, whom she told previously to "shut up and dribble" for speaking out. Ingraham's critics found it hypocritical for her to condemn Black athletes for speaking out but to condone Brees, who is white.
Brees said in his apology that, "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."
His 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 showed 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.
Floyd's death has sparked a wave of reaction from other members of the sports world as many athletes' statements have shared an image of the Minneapolis Police Department's treatment of Floyd next to a photo of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest.
Kaepernick notably knelt during the national anthem as a means of protesting racism and police brutality during the 2016 NFL season.
Trump was a heavy critic of Kaepernick's peaceful protest. In August 2016, then-candidate Trump said, "maybe he should find a country that works better for him.”
In September 2017, Trump said NFL owners should "get that son of a b---- off the field" when any players protest during the national anthem. In October 2018, Trump said that the NFL “should’ve suspended” Kaepernick for his protests of social inequality during the anthem.
Kaepernick last played in the NFL in 2016. The former 49ers QB 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.
On Thursday evening, shortly after Brees's second apology was published, several prominent NFL players demanded a revised statement from the league on the issue of systemic racism.
"We will not be silenced," the players said in the video. "We assert our right to peacefully protest. It shouldn’t take this long to admit. So, on behalf of the National Football League, this is what we, the players, would like to hear you state: ‘We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people. We, the National Football League, admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting. We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter.’”