There was a time I loved Drew Brees as much as any other athlete in the world. Back when I watched the NFL — before the league blackballed Colin Kaepernick for peacefully kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness about the Black people killed by police brutality around the country — I was a diehard New Orleans Saints fan. As someone born in Louisiana, he was the savior for my favorite franchise. Then he spoke about Colin Kaepernick back in 2016:
“I disagree. I wholeheartedly disagree,” Brees told ESPN about Kaepernick’s silent kneeling protest. “Not that he wants to speak out about a very important issue. No, he can speak out about a very important issue. But there’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag… Like, it’s an oxymoron that you’re sitting down, disrespecting that flag that has given you the freedom to speak out.”
Not only was this a perfect embodiment of the “white moderate” Martin Luther King, Jr. warned us about “who is more devoted to “order” than to justice,” but Brees’ statement came on Aug. 29th, 2016 — exactly 11 years to the day since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana.
Drew Brees owes so much of his legacy to the tragedy that was Katrina. Brees came to New Orleans in the wake of the storm and the way he catapulted the Saints to the playoffs and the eventual Super Bowl win in 2010 made him part of the story of the city’s rebuilding. And it is important here to note that Brees and his family have donated millions to the city beyond the revenue he brought as a singularly talented quarterback. However, his mythology is directly attached to a disaster that is a reflection of the racial inequalities Black folks face in this country.
Hurricane Katrina disproportionately displaced, killed and financially ruined Black people across the Gulf Coast region. The pitiful response by the United States government is just another shining example of the way Black folks are discarded in this country. This is the story indelibly linked to the legend of Brees. Which is why it was a stab in the gut for him to not understand why Black people would see the American flag as less than the symbol of hope Brees wants us to see.
I never cheered for Drew Brees after that.
Fast forward four years and we have even more proof of what we knew back in 2016: Colin Kaepernick was right. Colin Kaepernick was speaking to a real issue. And ultimately the only protest America will accept is a white protest. As the country recoils in horror at images of burning buildings and projectiles tossed across American cities in anger, Black America is reminding everyone that they didn’t accept peaceful protests, either.
As a reminder, these protests are a direct result of police murdering innocent Black people with the same fervor and frequency as they did back in 2016. While some in the world are coming around to understanding why Black people are angry, Drew Brees is sticking to the covering that makes him feel righteous in his indignation: the American flag.
This is what he said Wednesday when asked about players kneeling during the anthem in light of the current state of race relations in America:
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country… We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together, we can all do better and that we are all part of the solution.”
He tried to clarify his statement with “I love and respect my teammates and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice… I also stand with my grandfathers who risked their lives for this country and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis.”
This… isn’t better. Sixty percent of Brees’ teammates are Black. He is in the epicenter of one of the most devastating racial injustices this country has ever seen and he wants us to protest in the way he sees fit. This is just a day after he joined in with an empty gesture of posting a #Blackouttuesday post on Instagram.
Drew Brees can pretend all he wants that it is about the flag or his grandfathers or whatever excuse he wants. This is about something else entirely. This is about another white man silencing Black people because they make him uncomfortable. This is anti-Black. This is why players are kneeling. If Drew Brees refuses to make way for solutions, then he is only standing in the way of equality. I don’t care how much he convinces himself otherwise.
If Drew Brees wants to be the hero he thinks he is, he needs to disentangle himself from his love of preserving white ideals and truly stand with Black people. Until then, he’s just an anti-Black football star in a city he’s betrayed.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the internet. Read more of his work on NewsOne here.
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