BY Art Thiel 08:26PM 06/05/2020

Thiel: Uncomfortableness for Russ, Brees, fans

Saints QB Drew Brees stepped in it big time this week. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson stepped around it. When pro sports return, the locker rooms will be difficult.

Justin Britt (far right) and fellow Seahawks O-lineman Oday Aboushi joined black teammates who sat on the bench at the Clink during the national anthem, protesting police brutality and social injustice, during a game in 2017. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

When Russell Wilson was asked this week about his response to Drew Brees’s video interview remark that he “will never agree with someone who disrespects the flag,” the Seahawks quarterback said he’d just come from a meeting and didn’t get to “watch the whole thing.”

Actually, there wasn’t much else in the interview with Yahoo! Finance to see, other than to observe the venerable New Orleans Saints quarterback fall figuratively into the cultural abyss.

Wilson continued with a sincere if rambling answer that finally credited former 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, initiator in 2017 of the kneel-down protest against police brutality, for “trying to symbolize the right thing, and people may have taken that the wrong way . . . standing up for his kids and everyone else’s kids who are African American.”

Wilson never mentioned his name. Brees, 41, is a friend, hero and mentor to Wilson, 31. But a whole lot of Brees’s black teammates and others around the league mentioned his name. Not in a pleasant way.

Amid a national convulsion that confirmed Kaepernick’s 2017 complaint was tragically accurate, Brees appeared oblivious. Violinists on the Titanic were less tone-deaf.

Among his most poignant critics was Eagles CB Malcolm Jenkins, a teammate of Brees for Jenkins’ first five years in the NFL. The two-time All-Pro posted to Twitter a video in which he said Brees was “part of the problem . . . you don’t understand how people can experience the same thing totally different than you.”

Stricken and mortified by the backlash, Brees apologized on social media Thursday, first by words on an Instagram post:

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 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.

When that apology explained only that he was sorry, he tried to quell the skeptics with a second try, this time, he said, so people could see his eyes and get a promise of action.

“Step-by-step you will see my heart for exactly what it is and the way everyone around me sees it,” he said. “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.”

Brees, who led New Orleans to a Super Bowl win, has been one of the NFL’s most respected figures. He has given much time and money to numerous charities and causes, notably in the 2007 recovery from Hurricane Katrina, helping re-create parks, academic facilities and mentoring programs for kids through his Brees Dream Foundation.

Which only adds to the gravity of the seeming betrayal.

Meaningful action following the Brees apologies will help, and it’s easy to imagine Wilson accepting Brees’s regrets. Then again, who knows? In his Zoom conference with reporters this week, the depth of Wilson’s despair over what he called the “hate in America” was striking. He has almost always kept his professional distance from controversial social and political issues.

A little-discussed outcome of the racial drama roiling American streets is how it will play out in pro locker rooms, if and when seasons begin.

Politics tend to be marginalized, often by management urgings. But the depth and breadth of the rage fueling Black Lives Matter following George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police suggests that no one gets to stay neutral, or even quiet. Usually,  right-wing views have some fans on most, if not all, rosters.

As Seahawks LB K.J. Wright put it this week in his Instagram post, “Time for some uncomfortable conversations.”

The previous theory is that the unity necessary to be successful in pro team sports will cause  political tension to be sublimated. But there’s no rule precluding political/social contempt for a teammate, particularly these days, when even the choice to wear a mask is more of a political statement than merely a simple matter of public health.

Given the bewildering pace of ominous news these days, the case can be made that in two weeks, whatever Brees said or did will have been forgotten by most people. But not everybody.

Kaepernick “can still play some football, but he stood up for something that’s way greater than football,” Wilson said. “That’s people’s lives.”

Spoken less like a QB than like a dad with two kids and a third on the way.

American life, including sports, is fraught with uncertainty like no time since the Vietnam War. Two weeks ago, would you have imagined any sports narrative that had Kaepernick the hero and Brees the villain?



  • James

    TRUMP: “I am a big fan of Drew Brees. I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag. OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high.”

    On the other, the CONSTITUTION is just a piece of old paper to be trashed by the POS.

    • art thiel

      I’ve noticed a slight contradiction in the great man.

  • jafabian

    When I first heard of Drew Brees inflammatory comments I wasn’t surprised. It’s been well known of his deep appreciation for the US military, especially the Marines. He has spent many off seasons with US troops touring with the USO, has participated in Marine training, is on the Board of Trustees for the WW2 National Museum in New Orleans and leads the Saints offense in a Marine Corps running cadence before every game. He even sat with the POTUS and First Lady to watch an LSU football game. With such a track record it isn’t surprising that he would be at odds with those who kneel during the National Anthem.

    What is surprising is that at this stage in his career he’d be so careless with his comments after decades of dealing with the media and being the face of both the Saints and Purdue University football. It isn’t that hard to walk the line on the issue though I have not listened to the interview and I don’t know how the conversation got to where it did. What I do know is that today Brees apologized for his comments thru social media and even directed them to POTUS. After much discussion with teammates and other NFL players it seems as though the scales have fallen from his eyes as it were.

    Fact of the matter is Brees has enjoyed “white privilege” during his playing career and he’s taken it for granted and for the first time in his football career it’s gone. For his sake I hope he takes his words to heart though I know there will be others in the NFL who will go down the same road in the future. Cowboys CEO Jerry Jones stands firm on his expectations that Cowboys players are to stand during the anthem and why and there are no repercussions for him for example. But Roger Goodell’s statement today that the NFL was wrong not to listen to players about racism (though he failed to acknowledge Colin Kapernick) might change that. Emphasis on the word “might.” Racism has no place in today’s society. It breeds from hate and to quote Maya Angelou “Hate has caused a lot of problems in the world but it has not solved one yet.”

    • art thiel

      His obliviousness is exactly what black people are trying to explain to white people. From the daily indignities to casual murder by cops on the streets, the black experience is so different, including the regard of symbols fraught with political meaning like the flag.

      It is remarkable that it took the Boy Who Loves Tanks 41 years of being often surrounded by black athletes to finally get it. Then again, millions like him will never get it. I hope he can make a difference.

      • LarryLurex70

        FACTS in that first paragraph response, Thiel! 👍🏾✊

  • Hunterand Rene

    The thing is kts hard to hide your true feelings. Ur bound to break character at some point. Wayy before this was his cleats and statements those were just swept under the rug.

    • art thiel

      That’s generally true, but that discounts the ability of sincere people to change. And if that’s true, then let’s stop protesting and let the formal dictatorship begin.

  • Matt Kite

    I was surprised by Drew Brees’ tone-deaf remarks. But he seems to be making a real effort to make amends. I’m all in favor of forgiveness and reconciliation.

    • art thiel

      Agreed. His subsequent actions will provide the proof, but I don’t blame any black athlete for resenting him.

      • Matt Kite

        Agreed on both accounts. This middle-aged white guy was aghast at his comments. I just couldn’t fathom the combination of willful ignorance and obliviousness (obtuseness?). I can only imagine how his black colleagues felt. I would be pissed. And it would take a while to win me over.

        • art thiel

          I do believe his attempts at apology were sincere. Actions, however, will speak more persuasively.

  • Kirkland

    In this debate, I can’t help but think of Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella. When Kaepernick started the kneeling in 2016, the fiery Tortorella, who has a son in the military, was coaching the US in the World Cup of Hockey. His message to his US team was, “You kneel, you sit,” no exceptions. The players, including African-American (and one of Tortorella’s Blue Jackets, Seth Jones) all stood. They told reporters they didn’t have a problem with the fiercely patriotic Torts’ message, but many fans suspected kneeling would go against the hockey code of team > individual; if you got benched for protesting, you forced the team to play with one fewer player and hurt their performance, so you were being selfish, no matter how noble the reason.

    Now, with most people fully aware that the kneeling is all about racial injustice and not the military, I wonder if Torts would still enforce “you kneel, you sit”.

    • LarryLurex70

      You aren’t the only one thinking about ole’ Torts lately. Fortunately for him, kneeling isn’t what we’re going to see in the NHL. But, I must say that I’m pleasantly surprised and impressed at the heartfelt and soul-searching responses from Toews, Wheeler, Holtby, Horvat, Boeser and Chara, who even joined a march and demonstration. Those guys all genuinely spoke from the heart. They didn’t claim to have any of the answers, but, I didn’t once feel when reading what they said about at least trying to understand, that it was forced or phony.

      • art thiel

        Good to hear moments of progress. Thanks.

    • art thiel

      Thanks for offering the story. For obvious reasons, hockey has a lot farther to go. But the graphic Floyd murder has become an accelerant throughout sports. We’ll see if Torts can deal.

  • John

    I agree with a lot that others have said here. I am going to take a wait and see attitude with Drew Brees so I can see if his actions, in fact, match the sorrow of his poorly chosen words. He stuck his foot, ankle deep, in his mouth and he now has a lot to atone for. It’s my sincere hope that he does better and makes right. I do hope he received a refresher course in “Thinking before Speaking.”

    • art thiel

      I suspect that he’s listening sincerely to his teammates. For people with consciences, they can be influenced by public shaming.

  • coug73

    “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

    • art thiel

      Always the case everywhere — Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Amin, Pot, Marcos . . .

  • Will Ganschow

    Not since reading as a kid, Wendell Smith write about the treatment of some of baseball’s greatest stars during spring training have I found more relevant sports reporting.

    • art thiel

      Thanks, Will.

  • Tim

    He spoke his true beliefs the first time. It’s now damage control. It wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark…he was very articulate and thoughtful about it. We gotta get beyond niceties and get real. Drew’s chosen to insulate himself from an uncomfortable truth–Black men, kids, women and girls have been systematically murdered by law enforcement for decades, knowing they’d have their asses covered by their local municipalities. Cell phone technology has changed that and is bringing to light what’s been going on for a long, long time. The “blue line” mentality of protecting your own is visible in all institutions…(See the Catholic Church). I for one am done with the blue line bullshit. How police can cover for the murderers and sadists among them speaks to a deficit of character. It’s long past time to rethink the entire institution. There needs to be true citizen oversight in every neighborhood, and creative, compassionate crisis response interventions that involve more than cops showing up ready to shoot to kill. And we need white athletes of courage to stand up in solidarity.

    • art thiel

      Institutions will always insulate. As a newer example, look at how Facebook denies and diverts regarding its culpability for empowering violence and crippling journalism. It doesn’t need pepper spray to control crowds in the millions.

  • Husky73

    “There’s somethin’ happening’ here. What it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there. Tellin’ me I’ve got to beware. It’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s goin’ down.” Stephen Stills….53 years ago.

    • art thiel

      The lyrics of the 60s return to relevance.