New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is facing backlash after saying in a new interview he "will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country."
With peaceful protests and demonstrations ongoing in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody, Brees was asked about the possibility of football players kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem next season, as Colin Kaepernick did in 2016 in protest of racial injustice and police brutality.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees told Yahoo Finance, adding that standing for the anthem made him think of his two grandfathers, both of whom fought in the United States military.
"Both (risked) their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place. So every time I stand with my hand over my heart looking at that flag and singing the national anthem, that’s what I think about. And in many cases it brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed, not just those in the military but for that matter those throughout the civil rights movements of the '60s and all that has been endured by so many people up until this point.
"Is everything right with our country right now? No, it's not," he added. "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.”
Brees' comments quickly drew backlash from other members of the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback posted a status that didn't specifically mention Brees by name.
"A few years ago we were criticized for locking arms in solidarity before the game. It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag. Not then. Not now," Rodgers wrote. "Listen with an open heart, let’s educate ourselves, and then turn word and thought into action."
By Wednesday evening, Aaron Rodgers was a trending topic on social media as people applauded his response.
Michael Thomas, a wide receiver for the Saints, appeared to respond by saying on Twitter that Brees "don't know no better."
Lamar Louis, a linebacker who played for the Saints in 2016, accused Brees of "picking a side and not caring enough to fight for justice."
After the backlash, Brees clarified his comments to ESPN.
“I love and respect my teammates and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice,” Brees told ESPN reporter Mike Triplett. “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 the first time Brees has spoken out about Kaepernick's kneeling as a form of protest. In 2016, he told ESPN that he saw the protests as disrespectful.
"I disagree. I wholeheartedly disagree (with the protests)," Brees told ESPN at the time. "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. ... It's an oxymoron that you're sitting down, disrespecting that flag that has given you the freedom to speak out."