Protesters and police are taking knees in cities across the country right now. As George Floyd's death continues to fuel demands for change, that simple act serves as an acknowledgement that something needs to happen.
Former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the playing of the national anthem in 2016 with similar thoughts in mind.
At the time it fueled a national debate, not about systemic oppression or police brutality — things Kaepernick mentioned to reporters as he explained why he did what he did — but about the military, the flag and the anthem.
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The possibility exists that players will take knees again in 2020. Saints quarterback Drew Brees was asked by Yahoo! on Wednesday how the NFL should respond to players who may take a knee during the anthem this upcoming season.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said. "Let me tell you what I see and what I feel when the national anthem is played and when I look at the flag or the United States..."
Brees went on to say how during the playing of the anthem he's "in many cases" brought to tears thinking about his two grandfathers fighting in World War II, about those who've sacrificed serving the country in the military, as well as those who sacrificed to push the Civil Rights movement forward in the 1960s.
Brees added: "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 for 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."
Brees' desire to see the nation improve and unify is reflective of sentiments that have been shared widely since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. But his labeling a form of peaceful protest during the anthem as disrespectful has already irked at least one teammate.
At the time of Kaepernick's protests, his initial message was not lost so much as it was ignored, Niners corner Richard Sherman told NBC Sports Boston via text Tuesday.
"He was really straightforward because this has been an issue forever," Sherman said. "I don't think the message got lost, I think the majority didn't want to hear the message because they didn't feel like it impacted their lives so they avoided an uncomfortable conversation."
Devin McCourty told his brother Jason during their Double Coverage podcast that he sensed that message was, four years later, starting to be more widely embraced.
“Look at Kaepernick," McCourty said. "A couple years ago people were going crazy, ‘This guy is this, this guy is that.’ And the irony of a man losing his life because an officer’s knee is on his neck, and now all of a sudden people are like, ‘Aw man, let me actually take the extra second to listen to what Kaepernick said in an interview about why he took a knee and why he did a silent protest.’ And when you listen to it, people are like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of how I feel right now after watching the video.’
"It’s like, yeah I know. Because if you ever stop and listen to what he was doing and his true message, you would have never gotten to that point and you would have never talked about the military, you would have never talked about the flag. You would have understood, he was talking about freedom. He was talking about a bunch of things that, whether you want to name Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, you could go throughout history, Madam CJ Walker, all of these people wanted freedom for someone. Whether it was women, black people, they wanted that, and that’s what [Kaepernick] was talking about. I think it’s been very interesting to see just reactions towards him and how people now all of a sudden think, ‘Oh man, yeah he is a good guy.’ No, he had a pretty good message from the beginning.”
Following his Yahoo! interview, Brees provided a statement later in the day to ESPN.
“I love and respect my teammates and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice,” Brees said. “I also stand with my grandfathers who risked their lives for this country and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis.”
Brees' reluctance to support others who feel differently than he does when they see the flag — others who may want to exercise their right to peacefully protest during the playing of the anthem — is going to serve as an indication for some that Kaepernick's message continues to fall on deaf ears.