Drew Brees has revealed the personal anguish he felt following the backlash to his original comments on kneeling for the anthem before NFL games.
The New Orleans Saints quarterback was widely criticised by team-mates and other players in the NFL back in June when he suggested those who do not stand for the Star-Spangled Banner are “disrespecting the flag”.
Brees, the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yardage, completions and touchdown passes, later apologised for those words and reiterated he knew his remarks were wrong when United States president Donald Trump argued he should not have made a U-turn.
The Saints quarterback spoke to the media on Saturday and, prior to answering questions, he once again addressed his original comments about the anthem and the aftermath.
“Going back to my comment on June 3, 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,” Brees said.
“It was crushing. Never ever would I feel that way. I recognise that I missed an opportunity that day.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) July 29, 2020
“I had an opportunity to talk about and emphasise 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.”
Kneeling for the anthem – which was brought into the sports mainstream by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 NFL season as a protest against racial injustice and police brutality – is expected to be more prevalent in the 2020 campaign following the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in police custody in May.
NBA players have been kneeling and wearing ‘Black Lives Matter’ t-shirts prior to their games in Orlando this week and, shortly after Brees’ comments in June, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged the league “were wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting” previously.
Brees clarified that he would be standing for the anthem this season.
“I will always stand for the flag because of what it means to me and to honour all those who have sacrificed, who have served and died for our country and all those who have struggled to move this country forward,” Brees added.
“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.
“I will always support and advocate for the black and brown communities in the fight for social injustices. Always.”