New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees issued an apology Thursday for his comments on "disrespecting the flag," saying he "completely missed the mark" on current issues in the United States and that it "breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused."
During an interview with Yahoo Finance on Wednesday, Brees reiterated his stance that he will "never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America." He later told ESPN that he stands with his teammates fighting for racial equality and justice but also with the military, past and present.
In an Instagram post Thursday, Brees said he was apologizing to his friends, teammates, New Orleans, the black community, the NFL community and "anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday."
"In an attempt to talk about respect, unity, and solidarity centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country," Brees wrote. "They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy. Instead, those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character."
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I would like to apologize to my friends, teammates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday. In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused. In an attempt to talk about respect, unity, and solidarity centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country. They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy. Instead, those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character. This is where I stand: 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. I condemn the years of oppression that have taken place throughout our black communities and still exists today. 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. I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the black community in this movement. I will never know what it's like to be a black man or raise black children in America but I will work every day to put myself in those shoes and fight for what is right. I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy. I am sick about the way my comments were perceived yesterday, but I take full responsibility and accountability. 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. For that, I am very sorry and I ask your forgiveness.
On Thursday night, Brees issued another apology in a video message posted on Instagram saying he wished he "would've laid out what was on my heart in regards to the George Floyd murder."
Brees continued to say in his original post that he stands with the black community "in the fight against systemic racial injustice and police brutality" while supporting the creation of real policy change.
He also condemned the years of oppression the black community has faced -- and continues to face. And he acknowledged 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."
While Brees' apologies did not directly address his personal attitude toward protesting during the national anthem, they still drew a response from President Donald Trump on Friday, who tweeted twice to say the quarterback "should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our American flag" and that there should be no kneeling.
During an hourlong virtual team meeting Thursday, Brees addressed his teammates and apologized again to them, ESPN's Dianna Russini reports.
Saints punter and NFL Players Association executive committee member Thomas Morstead declined to share any specific details of what the team discussed in the meeting but told ESPN's Mike Triplett it was a "vulnerable" and "necessary" conversation, "not only for our team, but just as men."
"Hopefully more people around New Orleans and around the country are starting to have some of these difficult conversations," said Morstead, who said players were professional and kept their emotions in check but were very direct and said what they thought they needed to say.
Morstead also credited Saints coach Sean Payton for providing great leadership as a facilitator of such an important meeting.
An unnamed player who was in the team meeting also weighed in to ESPN, saying that "an uncomfortable situation opened up the floor for open line of communication that will make the locker room stronger (through) better understanding."
Saints linebacker Demario Davis credited Brees for issuing the apology, calling it a form of true leadership.
"What we had hoped the first time was that Drew would elaborate more on racism and the sentiments of the black community," Davis said during an interview Thursday morning on CNN. "And he admitted he missed the mark. So for him to come out and say, 'I missed the mark, I've been insensitive, but what I'm gonna start doing is listening and learning from the black community and finding ways that I can help them,' I think that's a model for all of America."
Davis also stressed the need to "stay focused on the issue at hand" and not make the discussion about "a player's response or statement or apology."
"We all have played a part also in helping direct the narrative away from the issues. We've all played a part in that, in getting caught up in different topics," Davis said. "At the end of the day, police brutality in America is a problem, racism in America is a problem, systematic injustice is a problem.
"... We need to eradicate that problem now. And we have the opportunity now. We have the collective voices, we have people united and speaking out about a cause and an issue that has existed for far too long. And we can do that by continuing to stay focused on the issue at hand. We all missed the mark before we had this opportunity."
Payton applauded Davis' comments in a tweet Thursday.
Wide receiver Michael Thomas, who appeared to take a shot at Brees in a tweet Wednesday, tweeted Thursday to say he had accepted Brees' apology, while running back Alvin Kamara tweeted about his interaction with Brees as well.
One of my brothers made a public statement yesterday that I disagreed with. He apologized & I accept it because that's what we are taught to do as Christians. Now back to the movement! #GeorgeFloyd— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) June 4, 2020
I've had a day to digest the comments that Drew made. I was disappointed and hurt. We talked and i explained to him where he dropped the ball and he understood. But now it's time for us to be part of the solution, not the problem. We have to educate to progress.— Alvin Kamara (@A_kamara6) June 4, 2020
WNBA star Maya Moore spoke about the positive effects that could come from Brees' comments on the flag and subsequent apology in an interview with Outside The Lines.
"It's hard because we want to be on the same page, we want to be unified, we want to see each other and validate each other," Moore said. "But you don't know what you don't know sometimes. And so Drew's original comment of course had some truth in it. You never want to see people disrespect anything that stands for honor. The other half of what I think Drew was starting to see, and other people can see, is that this symbol of freedom and bravery and America means that for a portion of the population. There are so many -- namely black and brown bodies -- in America who have experienced a different America than what the mainstream American flag symbolizes."
Brees concluded his post by expressing his dismay over how his words have affected people.
"I am sick about the way my comments were perceived yesterday, but I take full responsibility and accountability," Brees wrote. "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.
"For that, I am very sorry and I ask your forgiveness."
ESPN's Mike Triplett contributed to this report.