The more I sunk into Drew Brees' statement about protests, black lives and, by his choice, the American flag, one word kept getting under my skin.
It's an idealistic word that has lost almost all meaning at the hands of people who refuse to define it.
A tweet from Adam Schefter summarized the story as "Drew Brees calls for unity but said he 'will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag.'" In his answer, Brees said that standing for the Anthem, hand-over-heart, "shows unity." He wants people to come together.
But that's not really true. He doesn't want people to come together. He wants people to come to him. And if they get there, what, exactly, are they unifying against?
This is a pervasive issue in America as a whole. Your average politically-agnostic, racially-unthreatened, stuck-to-sports citizen derides "divisiveness" as the cause of our problems, without ever putting a name on it. "Divisiveness" is their enemy, not any of the causes of it. If we could all just get along, then we could all just get along. It's a neverending fight against nothing in particular.
What Brees' brand of "unity" denies is the mandatory step of uprooting yourself from your mountaintop and walking to a common ground to listen and evaluate from a new vantage point. This is not what he asks for. Brees asks for you to come unify on his hill. His arms are wide open, ready to accept you — if you are ready to adopt his understanding of what it is to respect or disrespect the flag, to protest in the exact right way, and to believe that black lives do matter — just on your own time.
Another thing that ambiguous calls for unity often forget: not every issue gets solved in the middle. Meet-you-halfway compromises can be fruitful. But in many instances, one side is simply correct. In our current public discourse, we have streets full of marching Americans begging the rest of the country to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter. This is not an issue with an acceptable middle ground. "Black Lives Usually Matter" or "Black Lives Matter Sometimes" are no more morally upstanding than ignoring the outcries altogether. Historically speaking, compromising about three-fifths of the way there simply isn't enough.
I have no interest in re-explaining how Colin Kaepernick's protest moved from a seated position to a knee on the recommendation of a former Green Beret. I have no interest in explaining, one more time, how no one has to see these oh-so-inconvenient peaceful protests as a referendum on respect for the American military. Brees can choose if he wants to discern the differences between "disrespect" and a plea for discourse. If he hasn't learned by this point, it is his exclusive responsibility to learn or be left behind.
But this is not unity. This isn't even a request for it. Not because Brees' opinion is "unpopular" or "controversial," but because his request for unity is disingenuous. It requests a listening spirit from people willing to hear him out. Something he has clearly chosen not to do for himself.
We need unity, Brees says. As long as you deliver it to his doorstep.
For more on Brees' statement and my thoughts on the other problems it creates, click here to subscribe to (Almost) Entirely Sports wherever you get your podcasts.