Wednesday was an opportunity for all of us who have admired Drew Brees to be reminded of his strength of character, that he is not just an all-time great quarterback but a stellar human being, guided by strong principles.
Thursday, those principles went out the window.
Let’s move chronologically. He was asked in an interview about the possibility of the return of sideline national anthem protests in the 2020 NFL season, in view of heightened sensitivities following the death of George Floyd. I offer his answer in its entirety:
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country. Let me just tell you what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played or when I look at the flag of the United States: I envision my two grandfathers who fought for this country during World War II, one in the army and one of the Marine Corps, both risking 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. In many cases it brings me to tears, thinking about not just those in the military but for that matter, those throughout the civil rights movements of the Sixties and everyone, and all that has been endured by so many people up until this point.
“And is everything right with our country right now? No, it’s not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect for 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.”
Right there, in just over a sixty-second answer, is everything millions have ever loved about Drew Brees—his talent for standing up for his beliefs while making clear his broad respect for differing views. That answer is a master class in why anthem protests repel countless Americans, including many who would otherwise gladly engage in a conversation about policing or anything else. It was exactly the kind of moral leadership that has made Brees the kind of man any parent can point to and tell a child, “That’s how you do it. On and off the field.”
Then, on Thursday, that vanished, evaporated by Brees’ own Instagram post, loaded with enough woke garbage to submerge a continent. I offer it in its entirety:
“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.”
This is a collapse for the ages, a surrender of such sweeping scope that one wonders if Brees can ever be counted on again to stand firm in challenging times.
In unpacking that truckload of capitulation, it should first be said that there is much to admire in the “where I stand” pronouncements: a recognition of injustice, a commitment to work toward solutions, and an overall empathy for the oppressed. But that is where the painful discouragement sets in while reading his burdensome confession: is there a human being on Earth who doubted the devotion of Drew Brees to those concepts?
Go back and read his inspiring comments on Tuesday. Is there a word in that answer that suggests an impure heart, a mind insufficiently awakened, a spirit in need of enlightenment?
There is not. His words of Tuesday were a magnificent statement that revealed openness to solve our nation’s problems, wrapped in an insistence that the nation should not be denigrated in the process.
It should surprise no one that radical race-baiters would attack him mercilessly for failing to dance the precise steps they demand. The surprise—the dispiriting shock—is that he caved to that malicious pressure.
What broke Drew Brees? Did the national George Floyd tensions erode his clarity, leading him unwisely to the notion that a community in pain deserves his acquiescence? Did the cesspool of social media fool him into thinking he had indeed wounded most of his admirers instead of inspiring them?
It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Drew Brees, a man with exactly the talent to skillfully answer malevolent assault, instead folded like the proverbial cheap suit. Since the Drew Brees I knew is in some type of moral coma, I will supply the Instagram message he should have posted. First, keep the image of black and white hands clasped in friendship, that’s good. But then:
“I understand that my comments of yesterday have sparked some negative reaction, so I want to make clear what I stand for.
“Nothing in my devotion to respecting the flag means that I lack empathy for the cause that has emerged from the death of George Floyd. I would hope that everything I have done on and off the field, among my teammates and my community, shows you my heart when it comes to helping make a better New Orleans and a better America."
“My deep belief is that when difficult issues arise, we do best as a country when we start from the basics of a shared love for the nation that gives us the freedom to speak out in agreement or disagreement. Americans of every race and every ideology have revered, sometimes worn, sometimes died wearing the flag of the United States. My feelings about the anthem stem from that undeniable truth."
“My feelings on various issues and controversies are things I am glad to share openly and respectfully with all people. In the current moment of the painful aftermath of George Floyd’s death and the quest for justice and reform, I stand with those who are shocked by what happened in Minneapolis and committed to fighting for the policy changes necessary to bolster trust between police and the communities they serve."
“Nothing will shake me from my devotion to these principles. Everyone working constructively for a better society will find an ally in me. But nothing will ever shake me from my love of my country, and the standards I have for how our nation’s traditions should be honored."
“Anyone who has ever known me is aware that those are not incompatible. I hope we can always work together in an atmosphere of mutual goodwill, starting with the values we share as we strive to solve any problem.”
There. Was that so hard?
Apparently it is when under bombardment by the mob. What makes the Drew Brees crumble so unfortunate is that it comes at a time when clarity is most necessary. When emotions are understandably high, giving in to the loudest extremists is a recipe for disaster. America has been turned into an attitudinal dystopia where the expansive declaration that “All lives matter” can get you branded as a racist. This is what happens when the bullies win, and Drew Brees has just handed them a fat victory.
There is no coming back from this in the near term. I do not expect Brees to delete his pandering post and replace it with his version of what I have supplied. He has made this bed and must lie in it.
Does it mean we forget his heroism in the period following Katrina or countless other moments when his kindness and generosity have indicated not just a very special athlete but a singularly admirable citizen? Of course not. But it is because of those attributes that this egregious failure hurts to watch. It is a stunning deviation from the Drew Brees millions thought they knew.
There will surely be tense moments in America’s future. Brees is 41 and surely approaches the end of his magnificent career. His is the kind of life story that suggests his post-NFL life will involve additional public pursuits, which is a potential blessing to anyone fortunate to benefit from his deep talents.
Let us hope that a stumble like this never happens again.