Washington DC: President Donald Trump has said that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was right to assert that NFL players should stand for the national anthem and should not have apologised for his controversial comments this week.
“I am a big fan of Drew Brees,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honouring 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!”
Trump reinserted himself in the debate about players’ protests during the anthem over racial inequality and police treatment of African Americans that he intensified in 2017. Brees brought the issue back to prominence when he said during an interview Wednesday with Yahoo Finance that he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.”
Brees responded to Trump on Instagram.
“Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realise this is not an issue about the American flag,” Brees wrote. “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 systematic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial [and] prison reform.”
Brees previously had apologised for his statements, which were widely condemned by teammates, other NFL players and many other observers amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd.
“I know there’s not much I can say that would make things any better right now,” Brees said on social media on Thursday. “But I just want you to see in my eyes how sorry I am for the comments that I made yesterday. I know that it hurt many people, especially friends, teammates, former teammates, loved ones, people that I care and respect deeply. That was never my intention.”
Brees added that he will be “part of the solution.”
Trump said during a political rally in Alabama in September 2017 that NFL owners should fire any player who protests during the anthem. That created a polarising national debate about the issue. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the players’ movement of protesting during the anthem during the 2016 season. Players said they were bringing attention to injustice and that their protests had nothing to do with the flag, the US military or patriotism. Trump and others critical of the protests characterised them as unpatriotic.
In an Instagram post Thursday, the league said: “This is a time of self-reflection for all — the NFL is no exception. We stand with the black community because Black Lives Matter. Through Inspire Change, the NFL, Players and our partners have supported programs and initiatives throughout the country to address systematic racism. We will continue using our platform to challenge the injustice around us.
“To date we have donated $44 million to support hundreds of worthy organisations. This year, we are committing an additional $20 million to these causes and we will accelerate efforts to highlight their critical work. We know that we can and need to do more.”
The league released a video Friday evening in which Commissioner Roger Goodell said: “We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”