The Saints' quarterback, Drew Brees, says he will continue to stand for "The Star Spangled Banner", but has expressed respect and support for those protesting against racism and social injustice by kneeling during the national anthem.
"I will always stand for the flag because it means for me to honor those who have sacrificed, who have served and died for our country, and all who have worked to advance this country," said Brees on Saturday in a conference call with reporters to discuss the start of the training camp.
"I recognize and respect everyone who decides to kneel or any other form of peaceful protest to draw attention to the social injustice and systemic racism that so many in our country have endured and continue to endure," continued Brees and added that he "will always support and stand up for black and brown communities in the struggle for social justice."
The 41-year-old Brees, who is the NFL leader of all time in terms of yards passing, completions and touchdowns, is entering his 20th NFL season and the 15th season with the New Orleans Saints. Not only did he discuss reconciliation with teammates, but also how he adapted to the limitations caused by the coronavirus pandemic, new off-season training methods aimed at improving long passes and even his well-known habit of licking fingers , to break.
"Believe it or not, I tell you I haven't licked my fingers in four months," said Brees when he started to laugh.
"If I can break the habit of licking your fingers, it means that anyone can break away from any habit because that is out of control," he added, noting that he wouldn't just do it when throwing a soccer ball , but also when leafing through a book or doing activities that could be more efficient with sticky fingertips.
But before he even asked a question, Brees opened the conference call with a statement of self-observation since early June, when he was seen by many as a symbol of white privilege because he said he would never agree to anyone who disregards the flag by he kneels hymn while kneeling. These comments came as protests grew across the country in response to the video of a white Minneapolis police officer who had recorded George Floyd.
Brees faced a devastating backlash from several current and former black teammates and other top-class athletes like LeBron James.
But the quarterback apologized soon after, saying he now recognizes that kneeling protests during the anthem, initiated by San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick in 2016, were never about the flag.
"To think for a second that New Orleans or the state of Louisiana or the Black Community would think I don't stand for social justice with them, that broke my heart. It crushed. Never, I would never feel that way, ”said Brees in his opening speech on Saturday.
"I realize that I missed an opportunity that day. I had the opportunity to talk about and emphasize the social injustices that exist for our black community and our need as a country to support them and to stand up for systemic changes. And my lack of awareness at that moment hurt a lot of people. "
Brees added that he has had many conversations with teammates since then, and especially in the past few days, and that they have "reconciled and closed everything from the past and we continue to focus on social justice issues".
Brees highlighted security, Malcolm Jenkins, who was one of his harshest critics, and said, "I am a friend of Malcolm. I am his teammate and I am his ally. There are many things we talk about when we all work together our goals are coordinated. "
At the same time, Brees emphasized that he is "the same person that I have always been … I am someone who has a great sense of responsibility to serve, guide and bring true equality."
Regarding football, Brees said the pandemic is forcing him to think of new ways to exercise leadership and promote team chemistry.
As an example of the effects of personal contact, he cited wearing monitors in the team center that flash and beep when you are within two meters of another person.
Gone are the days, Brees noted, when "you are all in this locker room and it is very tight and you are in the hotel and it is very tight and you have these moments to really develop the camaraderie."
Brees said he could travel to Denver for a few days to train with the new recipient Emmanuel Sanders, but otherwise did most of his training in the back yard of his off-season home in the San Diego area. There he worked with the throwing mechanic guru Tom House to improve the passes of about 60 meters.
"We used a lot of different techniques and training methods," said Brees. "There were a few moments of discovery."
Brees declined to say if he sees this season as his last, but said he had thought a lot about his decision to play this season and decided that he wanted to remain part of a team he wanted loves to see whatever happens as a Super Bowl favorite.
"Fair or not, I think we all agree that quarterbacks and head coaches are largely valued for wins, losses and championships," said Brees. "I came back for my team and came back to pursue this championship."
"I will enjoy every second of this trip and just appreciate every moment."
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