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“I’ve never seen anything like it, and I think he hurt himself badly,” Trump told his son Donald Trump Jr. on a special on his YouTube channel (3:39 mark). “I was going to put out that he’ll regret that in the future years because you stand for the flag. You have to stand for the flag and the anthem, our national anthem. You have to stand. And I think the NFL‘s gonna have a lot of problems if they don’t.”
Brees did an interview with Yahoo Finance on June 3, saying he disagrees with anyone who “disrespects” the flag by kneeling during the national anthem. The comment drew nationwide derision, including from some Saints teammates, with the nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody on May 25.
Brees issued several public apologies in the days following the controversy, saying he was “insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country.” He also posted the following caption alongside a photo with the words “To President Trump” after the president attempted to come to his defense on the issue:
“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 on Instagram. “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.”
Trump has criticized the practice of kneeling during the anthem on several occasions, including in September 2017, when he called players who demonstrate “son[s] of bitch[es]” and called on them to be fired. That comment led to widespread protests across the NFL.
Several NFL players, including Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, have said they plan on kneeling during the anthem in 2020. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued an apology for the league’s past efforts to stop protests June 5 after several superstars posted a video calling on the NFL to do more.