Drew Brees met with the media for the first time in training camp on Saturday, and before anyone could ask him about his 20th NFL season, he reinforced that he supports the fight for social justice that has enveloped the nation this summer.
The veteran New Orleans Saints quarterback drew a backlash in early June when an interviewer asked him about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee to protest police brutality, and he responded that he will “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.”
His comments came just days after George Floyd, a Black man, died when a white police officer in Minneapolis kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“Going back to my comment on June 3rd, to think for a second that New Orleans or the state of Louisiana or the Black community would think that I was not standing with them for social justice, that completely broke my heart. It was crushing,” Brees said on the conference call Saturday.
“Never ever would I feel that way. Now, I recognize that I missed an opportunity that day. I had an opportunity to talk about and emphasize the social injustices that exist for our Black community and our need as a country to support them and to advocate for systemic change. And my lack of awareness in that moment hurt a lot of people.”
Brees issued an apology after several athletes, including LeBron James and some members of the Saints, criticized his comments. He said he and his teammates are on the same page heading into the season, both in terms of football and social justice.
The 41-year-old said he will continue to stand for the national anthem but will support others who choose to kneel during the anthem to shine a light on the cause.
“I acknowledge and respect anyone who chooses to kneel or any other form of peaceful protest to bring attention to the social injustices and systemic racism that so many have endured and continue to endure in our country,” Brees said.
Brees has been a respected member of the community since 2006, when he chose to play for the Saints. He and his wife, Brittany, vowed to help the community rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
They have participated in a number of philanthropic efforts, most recently increasing his contribution to communities in Louisiana impacted by the coronavirus pandemic from $5 million to $10 million.
The Brees family announced Monday that their commitment is in direct response to the pressing needs for healthcare centers in communities hit hard by COVID-19.
Brees said Monday that his latest $5 million donation was being made in partnership with Ochsner Health “to build numerous healthcare centers throughout Louisiana in the communities that need it most. We will continue to bridge the gap to bring healthcare, education, and economic equity to all of our communities. We are proud to bring the first of these health care centers to New Orleans East later this year.”
On March 26, Brees donated $5 million to Louisiana communities in need of meal support and food services.