Culture Feature

Drew Brees Exemplifies How NOT to Be a White Ally

The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.

Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.

"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "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."

This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.

Colin Kaepernick Kneeling Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality

Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.

But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?

Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?

When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.

After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.

Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "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." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.

Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.

Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.

For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.


Drew Brees Breaks NFL's All-time Passing Record

The New Orleans Saints quarterback ended Monday night with a career total of 72,103 passing yards.

Scott Clause / CBS Sports

Drew Brees is solidifying his place as one of the NFL's best.

The New Orleans Saints quarterback broke the NFL's all-time passing record on Monday night with a 62-yard touchdown pass to Tre'Quan Smith, surpassing the previous records of Peyton Manning and Brett Favre and ending the night with a career total of 72,103 passing yards.

While the record-breaking pass was a beauty to watch, it was the quiet but frenetic celebration Brees shared with his family that became the night's best instant replay.

"You can accomplish anything in life you're willing to work for," a visibly emotional Brees told his three sons between embraces.

"That's honestly what I whisper in their ears every night before they go to bed," Brees explained on Today Wednesday morning. "I want them to approach life with a great sense of gratitude, humility, and respect for others."

His reaction in the moment was no surprise to fans that have followed his career, as Brees has come to be known for his philanthropic endeavors almost as much as his passing accuracy. In 2010, Sports Illustrated named Brees Sportsman of the Year, calling him "the heart of New Orleans" and praising him not just for leading the Saints to that year's Super Bowl win, but also for his dedication to rebuilding the city so devastated by Hurricane Katrina. On top of this, the Brees Dream Foundation, co-founded with his wife Brittany, has raised over $25,000,000 for cancer research and community-building initiatives since 2003.

Given his reputation as possibly the nicest player in the NFL, it's no surprise that athletes and celebrities took the celebration online to share their congratulations on Twitter.

Though the overall reaction was generally positive, some felt that the NFL's official recognition of the record left something to be desired.

Despite the milestone, Brees isn't slowing down. “There are still goals to be accomplished. There are still challenges to be met," he said in a post-game press conference. In fact, he's hardly slowing down to celebrate. He quickly regained focus after a brief delay in Monday's game, giving a hasty hug to Sean Payton before adding, “Let's go win this game, alright?"

As for future accomplishments, Brees won't have to wait much longer; with 499 career touchdown passes, Brees is only one touchdown shy from joining NFL legends Manning, Favre, and Tom Brady in the "500 Club."

Rebecca Linde is a writer and cultural critic in NYC. She tweets about pop culture and television @rklinde.

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Despite Harry Styles' modest football skills, One Direction has caught the eye of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Do as the boys say and live while you're young, QB 1! It's now or never for that music-football crossover career move. The guys of 1D and the Super Bowl champion star in a new commercial with Pepsi, which premieres October 10 during the U.S. telecast of The X Factor. From a 16-second teaser, we see that the thirst for defying expectations and setting records has caused Brees to recruit one of 2012's most successful pop acts for what he hopes will be the next big thing in the coming year. He plays in the Super Dome, the guys have played in the U.K.'s Wembley Stadium—clearly they'll have lots to talk about.


Brees acknowledges that the band's abbreviation and his own initials share a very important letter ("D"). All the more reason to combine forces and create a formidable boy-man band that will change the musical landscape as we know it, right? Several of the Saints players can probably vouch for Drew's singing abilities. "Sorry, mate," is all Liam can say to the enthusiastic athlete as the other members simply shake their heads and stare back blankly. Does breaking Johnny Unitas' touchdown record mean nothing to you boys? Oh, right. You love that other kind of football. Watch below.