Drew Brees, like most every other NFL-adjacent person, has weighed in on Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest. Brees has echoed a common line: He’s fine with Kaepernick protesting for what he believes in, but has an issue with him using the American flag (which he called “sacred”) to do so.
Here’s what he told ESPN today:
“No, he can speak out about a very important issue. But there’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag.”
Brees is either missing or choosing to ignore a very basic point here: Protest, by its very nature, must be disruptive to be effective. If Kaepernick truly wants to instigate change or at least shift the discourse, doing so in a clear, public manner is much more effective than protesting in a way that’s convenient to everyone.
What’s more interesting here, though, is Brees’s implicit position that his relationship to performative demonstrations of patriotism, which involves taking part in them to promote causes he supports, is definitionally the only valid one.
Consider that Brees came up with his famous pre-game huddle chant while visiting U.S. Marines at Guantanamo Bay—a global symbol of human-rights abuses—in 2009, part of a career-long pattern of branding himself as an unwavering supporter of the flag and the troops. Further consider that his overt support for the military on national television has undoubtedly contributed to the size of his public profile, especially since it’s amplified by a football media eager to echo the NFL’s close, profitable relationship with the military. His public image is based in part, this is to say, on willingness to appropriate military iconography, just as Kaepernick’s is based in part on a willingness to reject it.
Bear this in mind as Brees makes a point how deep his love of the flag goes:
“I’ve been on five USO trips, so I’ve had a chance to meet and talk with a lot of military personnel. I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of the things that they go through. Also having family that have served and sitting around and listening to my grandfather talk about World War II, so maybe that gives me a heightened level of appreciation for them,” Brees said. “But when I look at that flag, I think about them too. I think about a lot of things. Like when I stand and listen to the national anthem with my hand over my heart, there is emotions that well up inside of me.”
To Brees, the flag and the national anthem are powerful symbols of important values; clearly, they’re the same to Kaepernick. Both of these men are making clear their opinion of the way these symbols express important values through the way they treat them; both are speaking out and drawing attention to what they believe in through their actions; both seem to have reasonable positions; and yet only one is proclaiming his choices the only ones a decent person would make. One might wonder why that is.