Drew Brees spent the last 14 years of his career ingratiating himself with the people of New Orleans. With one statement, he threw a large chunk of that goodwill away.
Misguided as his statement was, it doesn't matter now. He'll never fully regain the respect of some fans in that city.
While appearing on a Yahoo! Finance video interview, Brees said, "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," when asked about NFL players taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem.
He added the following:
"Let me just tell you what I see, what I feel when the national anthem is played and 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 in 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. 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. 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 we are all part of the solution."
Wrong. NFL players kneeling during the national anthem does not equate to disrespecting the flag, which does not equate to disrespecting our troops and veterans. It's about bringing attention to police brutality and racial injustice in the United States. That's what was lost in Colin Kaepernick's protest. That appears to still be lost on Brees.
New Orleans has a long history of racial inequality. It started with the city's brutal history of slavery, continued during the Jim Crow era -- when the local government wouldn't let black people move into certain neighborhoods -- remained during the civil rights movement and was evident when poorer black neighborhoods were hit harder, and took longer to recover during and after Hurricane Katrina.
Brees not only alienated himself from a large swath of that local population with this statement, but also many NFL players and other star athletes. His teammates and wide receivers, Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, have already called him out on social media. So has Richard Sherman, Cam Jordan, Eric Ebron, A.J. Brown, Josh Jacobs, Jay Ajayi and many more. LeBron James even called out Brees.
Why Brees made that statement now, fully aware of the turmoil going on in this country, one can only guess. But when this many famous athletes unite against you over an issue involving race during a time of upheaval in the United States, it's impossible to fully recover. Especially in a city like New Orleans that has such a long history of inequality.
Brees issued the following statement after the initial one, but it doesn't deviate much from what he originally said: “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.”
Brees will likely issue another statement with a clearer apology. He will certainly have to smooth things over with his teammates. He'll probably make a public showing that he supports their cause (maybe a large donation or a pledge). But no matter what he does, he'll never gain back the unwavering, unquestioned love he built in New Orleans over the past 14 years.