This is the understatement of the decade, but protesting during the national anthem can be a very polarizing topic.
Whether someone is raising a fist, kneeling or sitting during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” that act alone will likely elicit a strong emotion one way or another.
To some, protesting the anthem is an ode to social justice. To others, it is the ultimate form of disrespect to the American flag and the many who have died in its honor.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees clearly falls into the latter category.
“Well I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees said when asked about the potential of anthem protests returning to the NFL in the wake of the ongoing protests and riots that have rocked the country.
That’s fair! The very same thing that protects anthem protesters, freedom of speech, should also apply to Brees in this instance.
To be clear, Brees made no comment about racial injustice, criminal justice reform, police brutality or any other issue that the ongoing riots are ostensibly about. He merely commented on the specific act of protesting during the national anthem.
Unfortunately, it’s 2020, which means that nothing makes sense anymore. Brees, who has a noted history of being a class act, was verbally assaulted by his fellow athletes.
It did eventually prompt an apology from the star quarterback.
View this post on Instagram
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.
Perhaps the most famous face who took Brees to task was Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.
WOW MAN!! 🤦🏾♂️. 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 🇺🇸 and our soldiers(men and women) who keep our land free. My father-in-law was one of those https://t.co/pvUWPmh4s8
— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 3, 2020
“You literally still don’t understand why Kap was kneeling on one knee??” James posted on Twitter, referring to the original anthem protester, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. “Has absolute nothing to do with the disrespect of [the flag] and our soldiers(men and women) who keep our land free.”
To be clear, LeBron James is more than entitled to his take on national anthem protests. That’s not the issue. However, an eyebrow has to be raised when you look at the greater context of James’ rant against Brees.
Looking at timestamps, James’ critique of Brees came roughly four hours after Yahoo had posted the offending video clip. That’s a pretty timely response to someone who has the freedom to express their personal beliefs about the American flag.
You know who’s on the verge of losing their right to freely express their beliefs? The citizens of Hong Kong. That’s pertinent to this tale because the NBA, and James in particular, were recently raked over the coals for being curiously silent about that very subject.
Hong Kong, which has long enjoyed a certain level of democratic autonomy from the rest of communist China thanks to the “one country, two systems” policy, was the center of controversy in recent months after a proposed extradition policy threatened its independence. Currently, there are still many ongoing civil rights issues as China tries to tighten its grip on the city.
When protesters in Hong Kong first took to the streets to protest mainland China’s encroachment, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey took to Twitter to voice support for the pro-democracy protesters. The NBA, however, quickly reprimanded Morey, presumably because it was afraid of losing copious amounts of money from the Chinese market.
In a word, it was disgraceful, and the NBA was rightly called out for it. That didn’t stop James, easily the NBA’s most recognizable star, from condemning Morey’s pro-democracy comments.
“We all talk about this freedom of speech, yes, we all do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others and you’re only thinking about yourself,” James said in October.
“I don’t want to get into a word, or sentence, feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke.”
“So many people could have been harmed,” James continued. “Not only financially, but physically, emotionally, spiritually. So, just be careful what we tweet, and we say and what we do. Even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that too.”
People are literally losing their freedom, but because it might harm him “financially,” James kowtowed to China in 2019. He’s been relatively mum on the subject since.
But a fellow American dares to use his freedom to speak out in favor of honoring the American flag?
Well, James is apparently OK with people losing that freedom based on his remarks about Hong Kong. Perhaps his feelings on Drew Brees’ freedom of speech shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.