It took Drew Brees three attempts over multiple days, but the New Orleans Saints quarterback finally apologized for comments implying that NFL players who kneel during the national anthem are unpatriotic, a common mischaracterization of the protest against police violence launched by Colin Kaepernick in 2016.
But at least one person was unhappy with Brees’s decision to change the play at the line.
Donald Trump took aim at the future Hall of Fame signal-caller on Friday afternoon, saying on Twitter: “I am a big fan of Drew Brees. I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring 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!”
The US president’s broadside came less than 24 hours after Brees posted an Instagram video in which he promised to “do better” following widespread criticism over a Wednesday interview with Yahoo Finance in which he said he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States”.
The comments, which came in the wake of widespread civil unrest in the US after the police killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, sparked immediate backlash.
Brees’s teammate Michael Thomas wrote in a subsequent post on social media: “We don’t care if you don’t agree and whoever else how about that.” Another of Brees’s teammates, Malcolm Jenkins, posted a video to social media in which he became emotional as he said the quarterback did not understand that for many black people in America the flag represents centuries of oppression.
Stars from other sports also joined in with the criticism. LeBron James, arguably the most high-profile athlete in America, posted his thoughts on Twitter.
“You literally still don’t understand why Kap was kneeling on one knee??” wrote the LA Lakers star. “Has absolute nothing to do with the disrespect of [America] and our soldiers (men and women) who keep our land free. My father-in-law was one of those.”
Ever since claiming at a 2016 rally that any player who knelt during the anthem was a “son of a bitch” and should be fired, Trump has not shied away from co-opting American sports as a primary theater in the culture wars reflective a country’s deep divides.
He’s waged media battles with the NBA’s Stephen Curry and LeBron James over his decision to rescind the Golden State Warriors’ unaccepted invitation for the White House visit traditionally extended to championship-winning teams, and twice called out LaVar Ball, the father of a UCLA basketball player detained for shoplifting in China, as “ungrateful” for the president’s help in resolving the imbroglio.