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Drew Brees’s Patriotism Shouldn’t Be Controversial

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees during NFC practice at ESPN Wide World of Sports. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

I can understand why the New Orleans Saints’ legendary quarterback Drew Brees would want to make nice with his teammates, and with black Americans in general, given the inflamed nature of public opinion at the moment. Nevertheless, his cringing apology is unfortunate. Brees’s statement on Instagram today was this:

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 (Wednesday). 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.

You could argue, I suppose, that Brees’s pro-flag comments were insensitive in their timing, but there’s no getting around the fact that what he said was not disrespectful to black Americans. It was a measured, reasonable statement of why he respects the flag and disagrees with those who knelt in protest during the National Anthem. He didn’t denounce anyone. He didn’t say the players who knelt had no legitimate grievances. He simply said that he, personally, doesn’t agree with engaging in public displays of disrespect of the flag. This happens to be the majority position in this country (54 percent according to this poll) and shouldn’t be controversial. Here’s the thoughtful, mild-mannered pro-flag statement Brees made Wednesday that sent people off on rage spirals:

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, 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’s 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. 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 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 that we are all part of the solution.

Absolutely correct. How bizarre to live in a moment when any of the above strikes anyone as inflammatory. Is it now politically incorrect to say you like your country?

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