Drew Brees has always been one of my favorite quarterbacks. So when a friend of mine told me about comments he made and the outrage he received, I was pretty concerned. He essentially provided the recycled, overused excuse for not approving of players kneeling during the National Anthem…
It’s disrespectful to the armed forces and the country as a whole.
He said essentially the same thing that some other players, coaches, owners and Trump have said in the past. Had he made these comments a month ago, maybe even just before George Floyd’s murder on May 25th 2020, I do not believe he would have been met with the outrage that he received. Therefore, he would not have issued the apology and announced his goals toward learning and doing more for the black community. Why do I feel this way? Because he’s done it before.
In 2017, he made similar comments about kneeling during the anthem. Had he been met then with the same criticism he has been met with now, he might not have repeated the comments a few days ago. I would like to note that while Brees did kneel with his teammates in 2017 before a game against the Dolphins in London, his kneeling was in response to Trump’s comments about the players, not in response to police brutality as was originally intended. Otherwise, why hadn’t he done it before Trump’s comments? Here is a snippet from an ESPN post (accessible via the references) pertaining to Week 3 of players kneeling in 2017.
“Do I think that there’s inequality in this country? Yes I do. Do I think that there’s racism? Yes I do. I think that there’s inequality for women, for women in the workplace. I think that there’s inequality for people of color, for minorities, for immigrants. But as it pertains to the national anthem, I will always feel that if you are an American that the national anthem is the opportunity for us all to stand up together, to be unified and to show respect for our country.” Brees stood for the anthem.
Compared to his recent apology, this is pretty weak. He acknowledges that racism exists and that minorities, women and immigrants experience inequality.
Great. We knew that.
The remainder of his comments perpetuate the misconception that kneeling during the anthem somehow disrespects the country. He doesn’t directly say this in his 2017 comments (he does say “disrespecting the flag” in his most recent comments), but it is strongly implied that if you don’t stand, you are not taking the opportunity to respect the country. One might associate not taking an opportunity to respect something with disrespecting it. If not disrespecting it, then being apathetic toward it, which couldn’t be further from the intention of the kneeling protest.
Let’s jump ahead to present day and analyze the apology he made a few days ago. There is a stark difference in both the depth and specificity in his acknowledgement of systemic racism. Here is the first of a few lines that I think are particularly important.
“I stand with the black community in the fight against systemic racial injustice and police brutality and support the creation of real policy change that will make a difference.”
Already, this is more direct than his comments in 2017. He specifically mentioned the black community as well as the systemic racism and police brutality they face. A key objective for the Black Lives Matter movement is acknowledging that the black community (not simply ‘all lives’) in particular is being severely affected by systemic racism and police brutality.
“I acknowledge that we as Americans, including myself, have not done enough to fight for that equality or to truly understand the struggles and plight of the black community.”
This was point was non-existent in his 2017 comments. He’s actively putting himself and America on the spot to be accountable, and more importantly actionable, in the pursuit of racial equality. It’s one thing to say racism is bad. It’s another thing to actually implicate yourself in previous inaction and put pressure on yourself (and your country) to do more. Initially, I felt his comments about trying to understand the struggles of the black community were misguided, considering as a white man he can never truly understand. However, a few lines later, he makes a clarification.
“I will never know what it’s like to be a black man or raise black children in America but I will work everyday to put myself in those shoes and fight for what is right.”
This is something that all white people need to drive home for themselves. We will never truly know what it is like to be black in America. While he’s acknowledging that he will never know what it’s like, he’s not using this as an excuse to wash his hands of the issue. Instead, he’s expressing that despite not fully understanding, he can still try to be as empathetic as possible. This can provide a distinction between being a casual observer and a potential activist. I am curious about if (and how) he will work as an activist moving forward. Which brings us to the final part I would like to analyze, where he talks about a potential first step he can make towards activism: listening to the black community before talking.
“I recognize that I should do less talking and more listening…and when the black community is talking about their pain we all need to listen.”
I feel that this illustrates sincerity in his apology. He could have taken the opportunity to be defensive. To talk about what his comments were intended to mean versus how they were perceived. Instead, he recognized that now it is time to listen. This is something that all white people need to do regardless of whether or not you already understood the difference between protesting police brutality and disrespecting the country. We need to actively listen and learn about what the black community is experiencing, from the black community.
It’s easy to passively recognize, maybe even ignore, the issues of a community that is not your own. A major objective of Black Lives Matter isn’t to divide Americans, but to bring attention to and teach other communities that they are hurting and that work needs to be done to remedy that pain. Steps can be taken, and with proper insight from the black community, those with privilege can use it to actively pursue and take those steps.
I believe his apology to be sincere, but what he does following his apology will determine whether or not his response to the issues at hand is sufficient. In order for his response to be sufficient, he will need to engage in effective activism, along with an honest pursuit of learning more about black history, the black community, and ongoing issues that continue to plague black lives.
So what can we actually learn from Drew Brees’ apology?
I cannot be certain whether or not he was being authentic in his apology until he either follows through with or bucks the intentions he laid out in his post. However, the fact that he made the statements he did in his apology, and the fact that those statements are visible to his 1.7 million Instagram followers (as well as those who don’t follow him but who see it shared by other users, as I did) should be viewed as some level of advocacy. He could’ve phoned in an apology, saying he made a mistake, that he was sorry and left it at that. Instead, he took the opportunity to own up to his shortcomings regarding his level of activism and understanding of the issues the black community faces, as well as express a willingness and intention to listen, learn and do more. Which brings us to the second point, accountability.
Brees acknowledged that he does not know what it’s like to be a black person in America. He acknowledged that while he is an ally, he has not done all that he could do to help. This is something all white people need to recognize. No matter how much you believe in the cause, action is needed. The persisting issues that affect the black community is not due to a lack of activism in the black community, but a lack of activism in the white community. Sharing a black square on Instagram is a show of solidarity, an example of advocacy, but it is not activism. I will be attaching a shared Google spreadsheet that acts as a nationwide resource list for many of the community bail funds, memorial funds, political education resources, safety tips and more. It also has options for people who can’t donate or protest. Here is a list of 100 things you can do to take action against racism.
The Protests are Working
As I mentioned earlier, he had made similar comments like this in the past but was not met with this level of outrage. The message being conveyed by kneeling was no less important then than it is now, but perhaps it has been amplified given the current circumstances. The size and proliferation of these protests has made the message louder and larger. It’s forcing previously unaffected communities (particularly white communities) to take notice, reflect, and meditate on whether they’ve done as much as they can to help the black community. Short of acknowledging that racism and inequality exists, it doesn’t appear that Brees had publicly acknowledged his (and America’s) shortcomings in regard to pursuing equality for black lives until now. I have not been able to find anything contradicting this. If there is a resource that you’ve come across that is contradictory please let me know in the comments or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
While the apology does not accomplish the reform we need, it is a step in the right direction and one that he has not taken until now. This country was founded as a result of protest, and it will only continue to heal, grow and progress if action is taken.
If there are any other resources that you think are useful and that you’d like me to include please let me know in the comments or via email, I’d be happy to add them.
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