Floyd protests: Protesters take a knee on I-95 Friday night Delaware News Journal
The NFL, where 70 percent of players are black, is a diverse league.
That means relationships matter, and words matter.
An African-American wide receiver, for example, has to know that the white franchise quarterback has his back, just like the quarterback has to know that the offensive line believes enough in him to hold that block for as long as possible.
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That’s why it resonated with the Eagles when quarterback Carson Wentz and tight end Zach Ertz, both white, released statements last week expressing their outrage over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
And it’s why so many black teammates of Saints quarterback Drew Brees were outraged when Brees said he will “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.” Brees was referring to protests by Colin Kaepernick and others who knelt during the anthem to protest violence by police against blacks back in 2016.
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Brees has since apologized twice, once on Twitter and reportedly again to his teammates in a virtual meeting.
Then late Friday night, Brees made his strongest statement yet, replying to a tweet from President Donald Trump, who said Brees should never have apologized for his comment about honoring the flag.
“Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag,” Brees wrote. “It has never been. We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities. We did this back in 2017, and regretfully I brought it back with my comments this week. We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform.”
Brees took a big step towards winning back his teammates’ trust. It’s nowup to the Saints players to forgive.
And the ramifications could be significant.
The Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017 because they were a talented and close-knit team that had each other’s backs.
Sure, there were tensions in the locker room.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins spent that season and the one before raising his fist during the national anthem as a show of support to Kaepernick.
Certainly, not everyone agreed. But defensive end Chris Long, who’s white, supported Jenkins by putting his arm around Jenkins during the anthem. And that resonated.
And it also shows how little has changed.
Four years after Kaepernick first took a knee, Floyd was killed as a result of what Kaepernick was peacefully protesting about.
Wentz recognized that, and Brees didn’t – until now.
Wentz and Ertz, in their statements, expressed contrition because they will never know what African-Americans go through dealing with racism, wondering if their next encounter with police will turn deadly.
That message was reinforced earlier this week when the Eagles held a virtual team meeting in which several black players, including wide receiver DeSean Jackson, shared some of their experiences.
It resonated so much that center Jason Kelce said he was inspired to make a statement as well.
“They stepped up. They made their voice be heard,” Jackson told NBCSports’ John Clark about white players speaking out. “They used their platform. They used their resources. They used everything they could do to reach out and say, ‘I might not know what it feels like to be racially profiled. I might not know what it’s like to grow up in the inner communities and these areas that you guys face on a daily basis,’ where we’re scrutinized for the color of our skin.”
And then Brees gave the same canned response that he and so many others gave four years ago about disrespecting the flag, and mentioning how his grandfather fought in World War II.
Brees must have forgotten that black veterans fought then, too, only to return home to deal with racism throughout the country and segregation in the South.
That racism continues to this day.
Several of Brees’ teammates, including Jenkins, who signed with New Orleans in March, and star wide receiver Michael Thomas sharply criticized Brees. Jenkins said at the end of an impassioned video posted to social media: “Even though we’re teammates, I can’t let this slide.”
The same is true of multiple players from around the league.
That included Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who released his own statement indirectly blasting Brees.
“It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag,” Rodgers wrote. “Not then. Not now. Listen with an open heart, let’s educate ourselves, and then turn word and thought into action.”
Many of Brees’ teammates, including Thomas, are willing to give Brees the benefit of the doubt after his apologies.
But it will be up to Brees to show that he really means what he said Thursday in his Tweet:
“Step-by-step you will see my heart for exactly what it is and the way everyone around me sees it. I’m sorry it has taken this long to act and to participate in a meaningful way but I am your ally in this fight.”
This is not to say that Wentz is a better quarterback, or that the Eagles will have a better season than the Saints.
Brees, after all, has thrown for the most yards in NFL history. Even at the age of 41, he’s considered one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. And the Saints are considered one of the top teams in the NFC, as are the Eagles.
A lot of Brees’ success, of course, is because his teammates have trusted and believed in him.
He has to win that back.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.