The world as we know it is shaken. Not just because of a global pandemic, but also because of violent acts of injustice and racism which have taken far too long or are still yet to see accountability — not the best climate for what took place for Drew Brees on Wednesday.
In an interview with Yahoo! Finance, Brees was asked about injustice and police brutality with specific mentions to the protests during the national anthem, with a loose claim that some believe it may be coming back. To that, instead of Brees immediately detesting the violence, injustice, and racism that has plagued and dominated communities leading to protest (which he did reference in generality earlier in a separate question), he spoke specifically on how the protests during the anthem, which are widely not a part of conversation right now, and how they affected him.
Since making the comments, Brees has issued a detailed apology on Instagram. Let’s talk about the initial comments and their response first, what the catalyst for the response seems to be, and then his apology and display of accountability.
It is important to clock here that the issues with his original comments were not just that he is against the protests during the anthem. We knew that. He told us that in 2017. The issue that many took with this statement — fans, teammates, players from around the league, even service men and women who spoke their piece as well — was also the omission. The lack of George Floyd’s name. The lack of Breonna Taylor’s name and/or the failure to address specifically the effects of racism and police brutality. This is especially visible when you see statements from other quarterbacks, rookies and veterans around the league like Joe Burrow and Aaron Rodgers.
Looking at the hurt in Malcolm Jenkins’ eyes in his video response, which he posted after a conversation with Brees Wednesday evening is just one of many examples of people expressing their disappointment and surprise. Along with him came, sometimes harshly framed, statements and reactions from teammates and NFL players like Michael Thomas, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Emmanuel Sanders, Lance Moore, Marques Colston, Jamal Adams, and many others. Even Ken Crawley, who knows a thing or two about blowing it, chimed in. Meanwhile, both Marcus Davenport and Joe Horn went to his defense.
Now, the next question comes down to whether or not the Saints can maintain one of the strongest locker rooms and cultures in football. Unfortunately, that’s a tough thing to project from here, but players are already stepping up. After Brees’ statement, Cam Jordan called himself responsible for not including Brees into these conversations on race and injustice he’s had with teammates since 2017. Dianna Russini reported that the team already had a players only meeting on the books. In Nick Underhill’s article, it indicates that Brees has already “privately admitted he mishandled the situation on Wednesday.” Michael Thomas has already retweeted positive tweets about the Hall of Fame quarterback as well. And of course, Brees has now taken to Instagram to apologize.
If team culture is as strong as we’ve perceived it to be. With community leaders like Demario Davis and Malcolm Jenkins, as well as access to former players like Ben Watson, this ship can be righted. Do I think Drew Brees, before or after his follow up, retires early, gets cut, or traded? Not at all. It will take work, without a doubt. But these wounds can be dressed and healed in a process already well under way.
Here’s one thing I know about the Saints as a team top to bottom...they have a very, very strong lockeroom. This could be a difficult space and/or conversation but this could also make them stronger as a group. We should all be rooting for education, honesty, and reflection.— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) June 4, 2020
Many urged fellow Saints fans to forgive Brees based on the charitable giving and incredible role he’s played over his 14 years in New Orleans. Giving $5 million to feed families during the Covid pandemic, building an all-inclusive playground for people of all abilities, and so, so much more. But with that community engagement and connection to the people of New Orleans, Louisiana, the Gulf Coast, and around the world also comes responsibility. Many look up to Brees as a role model and hoped that he would echo their pain in the Yahoo! interview. When he did not — even if by oversight — that very same connection he has built through his remarkably gracious work began to work against him, demanding accountability. Because again, the issue many are taking is not only with what he did say, but the lack of awareness displayed in what he did not.
Now, is Drew Brees racist? No. Not in my eyes. That would be an unfair claim. Was he blatantly ignorant in that moment? Absolutely. Too often though do we equate ignorance with stupidity. Which is incorrect. Ignorance is simple unawareness. There was a blind spot for the experiences of others in the recounting of his own. And much of that is thanks to the sneaky reporting of Yahoo! Finance. But as a black man who has spent 30 years navigating racism, I ask us to reserve the identification of racism to call what is racist racist and leave space to educate ignorance, not disband it.
Now does that mean that Brees is without fault? Absolutely not. Omission is often tied to complacency, an unawareness which can be harmful at times like this.
If Brees had just taken one moment to acknowledge today’s issues, to specifically and by name detest the violence, brutality, and racism that lead to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless other Americans, the reception would have been much different. Focusing on solidarity and what is most important right now at this second would have shifted the narrative of his sentiments even if otherwise shared intact.
Those additional sentiments would have made the world of a difference. Hence why the focus, in other words, was not just on what he did say, but what more he could have said with the same breath.
It is OK to demand more from your role models, your inspirations, your community leaders. It comes with the territory. It’s okay to challenge. I’ll be the first to say that I by no means “hate” Drew Brees over this situation. But I am willing to challenge him to improve, listen, and learn about these issues and how to effectively address them. So challenge others as we should all challenge ourselves to strive for improvement and forward momentum.
That forward momentum, I believe, was displayed by Drew Brees Thursday morning in his carefully thought out and constructed apology to the black community, the NFL, and his teammates. Among the comments:
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
Nearly word for word, the sentiments many wish would have been said, even in conjunction with his feelings on the flag. Were these very important and constructive thoughts present enough on his mind Wednesday night to precede to see airtime, imagine how different the night would have been. Sure, there might have still been some issues taken, further challenges, etc. But the display of deafness to the unheard would not have been so starkly present and at the forefront for Brees, his teammates, and the people across the world his words affect.
This apology is more. This apology is better. It’s a start. Perhaps not from absolute zero, but it is a step in the right direction. But this should not lead those who were critical of his initial comments to fully exonerate him either. In instances like this is it important to remember that “progress” or perfection are forever pursued with the understanding they will never be achieved. We should, together, always strive for better even when we feel we are at our best. A construct with which I believe relentless competitors like Brees and his teammates are familiar.
JUST NOW: "For him to admit that he was wrong.. I think that is leadership at its finest."— Alli Hedges Maser (@AllisonLHedges) June 4, 2020
New Orleans @Saints linebacker @demario__davis reacts to hearing @dreabrees' apology in real time. pic.twitter.com/ynY2Ssy6je
Earlier in the full Yahoo! Finance video, Brees evoked the word “action” with much fervor. That actions speak louder than words. Next, along with the continued address of mindset, comes that action.
The responsibility, of Drew, of his teammates, of the world, is to commend a step forward by encouraging continued movement and continued forward momentum. Drew Brees has, without a doubt, taken a step in the right direction. Now it is up to him, up to us, up to all to not just accept but to continue with the next step, and the next, and the next...