LeBron James, Aaron Rodgers Call Out Drew Brees After He Says Players Should Stand During Anthem
NBA star LeBron James criticized New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees after the former Super Bowl champion likened the #TakeAKnee movement to “disrespecting the flag," just over a week after George Floyd was killed by a white police officer who kneeled on his neck for eight minutes.
Yahoo Sports posted an interview with Brees on Wednesday where he was asked about the possibility NFL players would continue the movement that Colin Kaepernick started in 2016 by kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and systemic racism.
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees, 41, told Yahoo. "Let me just tell you what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played and when I look at the flag of the United States."
Brees then talked about his two grandfathers, who he says fought in the military during World War II.
"Both [risked] their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place," he said. "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."
The comments garnered swift blowback over social media, and James, who has defended Kapernick and the #TakeAKnee movement in the past, was one of the loudest voices to criticize Brees.
“WOW MAN!!” James, 35, wrote on Twitter. “Is it still surprising at this point. Sure isn’t! You literally still don’t understand why Kap was kneeling on one knee?? Has absolute nothing to do with the disrespect of [the flag] and our soldiers (men and women) who keep our land free."
“My father-in-law was one of those men who fought as well for this country," the Los Angeles Lakers star continued. "I asked him question about it and thank him all the time for his commitment. He never found Kap peaceful protest offensive because he and I both know what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong! God bless you."
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers joined in on the criticism, posting a picture of himself locking arms with his teammates — an alternative protest for those who didn't want to kneel.
"A few years ago we were criticized for locking arms in solidarity before the game," Rodgers said. "It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag. Not then. Not now. Listen with an open heart, let’s educate ourselves, and then turn word and thought into action."
Saints' wide receiver Michael Thomas also apparently took aim at Brees, saying, "He don’t know no better," and "We don’t care if you don’t agree and whoever else how about that," on Twitter.
When asked about his comments by ESPN, Brees doubled down and defended himself by saying he's done his "absolute best to make this world a better place."
"I believe we should all stand for the national anthem and respect our country and all those who sacrificed so much for our freedoms," Brees said. "That includes all those who marched for women's suffrage in the 1920s and all those who marched in the civil rights movements and continue to march for racial equality. All of us … EVERYONE … represent that flag. Same way I respect all the citizens of our country … no matter their race, color, religion."
"And I would ask anyone who has a problem with what I said to look at the way I live my life," Brees continued. "Do I come across as someone who is not doing my absolute best to make this world a better place, to bring justice and equality to others, and hope & opportunity to those who don't have it? That's what I meant by actions speak louder than words. … My ACTIONS speak for themselves."
The Saints did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
• ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.
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