Drew Brees’ once-pristine image has been under attack this week and rightfully so as the future Hall of Famer has endured a PR nightmare stemming from his ill-timed comments about standing for the national anthem and respecting the American flag at all costs. Brees has since apologized for his tone-deaf remarks amid widespread protests against police brutality and racial profiling, which began in response to George Floyd’s death in Minnesota last week.
Reaction to Brees’ apology continues to roll in with some praising the quarterback’s honesty in owning up to his poorly chosen words, while others, including ESPN’s Maria Taylor, haven’t been as quick to forgive. “My patience left my body when I watched George Floyd take his last breath,” said an impassioned Taylor while appearing on Friday’s First Take. “If that didn’t affect you and make you want to reassess the way you want to address a question that includes racial injustice in our country after you watched that man die in the middle of the street, something is off.”
Longtime TNT commentator Kenny Smith was similarly enraged, arguing that Brees showed a glaring lack of empathy for minorities and their struggle. “I was very offended,” acknowledged Smith, who said Brees’ remarks wreaked of “white privilege.” “Drew Brees doesn’t have to ask me what he should do. You go research it, you figure it out, you be sensitive to it, you be empathetic to it and you put your money and your time where your mouth is. Then I will believe.”
While the former Houston Rocket thought Brees’ words rang hollow without actions to back them up, Smith’s TNT colleague Charles Barkley came from a different vantage point, believing the media reacted too harshly to Brees’ initial statement. “He made a mistake,” offered Barkley, agreeing that Brees spoke out of turn by saying he’d “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States.” “I did not like what he said right away. But the vitriol and animosity and hatred he got for the last 24 hours, I thought it was overkill.”
Shaquille O’Neal, whose father was an Army sergeant, echoed Barkley, insisting Brees deserves a second chance. “I know Drew Brees. He’s not a racist,” said O’Neal, who was present for Brees’ apology during Thursday’s team meeting with the Saints. “Look, everybody makes mistakes. A lot of these people on social media, I agree with you Chuck, they think they’re holier than thou. We all make mistakes and say stuff in the heat of the moment.”
Studio host Ernie Johnson, who also comes from a military background (his father served in the Marines), weighed in as well, urging Americans to do their part in making our country a safer, more tolerant place rather than leaning on blind patriotism. “You can’t use the flag as a blindfold and not see the things you’ve seen with your very eyes. What’s keeping this country held back is systemic racism,” said Johnson on Thursday night’s Inside the NBA. “The wrongs are there and it’s up to us to take the initiative.”
In his apology, Brees seemed sincere and genuinely regretful for what he said. Maybe he deserves our forgiveness. Or maybe Maria Taylor and Kenny Smith are correct in their assessment that words aren’t enough. But as Taylor expressed on First Take, white athletes are finally being held accountable for what they say, and that’s a good place to start. “All I can do is let you reveal yourself and countless people are doing that right now,” said Taylor, refusing to let Brees and others off the hook for misspeaking on issues of race. “And for the first time ever, they are reaping some kind of consequence that does not have any retaliation for me or the people that are calling them out.”