Drew Brees: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag…”

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(AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

By the time you read this, it’s likely (if not outright probable) that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees will have issued a “clarification” for his remarks as to the importance of standing for the National Anthem (below).

The initial reaction is to again call into question the conceit among the famous in which they operate under the generally misplaced perception that they are somehow qualified to weigh in on matters better left alone. The secondary response is to believe that because Brees has a relationship with President Donald Trump and, on the surface, appears to be a Trump supporter, his statements were an opaque defense of the methods used by the Trump administration to deal with the ongoing protests over the murder of George Floyd.

Brees’s comments will cause him problems and it’s a certainty that he will backtrack on them to some degree. Whether there is a complete about face or the previously mentioned carefully worded clarification will hinge on the need for damage control. Brees has been a likable personality, is a future Hall of Fame quarterback, is known for his charity work, is popular with his teammates and around the NFL. That should grant him some leeway provided he strikes the necessary balance of contrition and explanation for his comments.

The easy thing to do is to say his comments were inappropriate. That’s the consensus as he’s being shredded for his supposed insensitivity. However, there was sufficient ambiguity to make the argument that he was not overtly criticizing Colin Kaepernick and other players who have kneeled in solidarity to protest police brutality, but expressing his belief that people should stand for the National Anthem and why he feels that way; that kneeling and disrespecting the flag is not an effective strategy to stoke the change that Kaepernick was seeking when he began his campaign – a campaign that cost him his job in the NFL.

Brees did not dismiss Kaepernick’s reason for kneeling. He didn’t even mention it. He said verbatim he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.” The subsequent explanation about his grandfathers having served in World War II along with the dull and repetitive platitudes about how everything is not right with the country and there’s a “long way to go” will elicit eye rolling among residents of the East and West Coast and a large segment of the media. But to put it in a different context and understand where Brees is coming from figuratively, it’s important to look at where he comes from literally. Brees is from Texas. He went to college at Purdue in Indiana. He plays professionally in Louisiana. These are three of the reddest of the red states in the union; places where his commentary is not just a factional belief, it’s the norm.

The American freedom of expression gives Kaepernick the right to protest. Brees also has the right to say that he does not agree with it without being forced to issue an insincere apology due to mounting pressure and because he does not want to lose his lucrative endorsements or ruin his good reputation.

The key component here is the timing. Brees hit a nerve by saying this now. If the United States was not dealing with an ongoing pandemic; protesting, looting and rioting in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder; and fears of onrushing authoritarianism from a president who is, to put it mildly, polarizing, it would have garnered some agreement, some disagreement and mostly shrugs. Add in the images of Brees and his wife smiling with the Trumps and the puzzle pieces easily fit to stoke the narrative of the Trump-loving Brees denigrating the good intentions of Kaepernick at precisely the time when Kaepernick’s cause is being shown to have been valid and Trump is seeking to quash dissent during his re-election campaign.

These are multiple hoops to jump through to make an encompassing assumption of who Brees is as a person because he holds strong feelings about the American flag, but these same assumptions have been made for four years about Kaepernick and for those four years, they have left him unable to find work in the NFL.

In the same vein of Kaepernick being told to accept his role in the NFL, keep his mouth shut and he’ll have a job, Brees is now being told that he too should stay quiet about his perspective on these complex issues when he was asked a direct question about it. Perhaps he should have stayed quiet. It would be far easier for the well-known to stay apolitical. Kaepernick chose not to do that and so has Brees. Despite their positions appearing to be diametrically opposed, Brees has the same right to voice his opinion as Kaepernick did regardless of how it is received by the opposite sides who are never going to agree about it anyway.