Drew Brees just can’t win. The Super Bowl champion quarterback of the New Orleans Saints swan-dived himself into social media hell last week when he stated in an interview, “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States or our country.” He made that comment in the context of a discussion about Colin Kaepernick, who was blackballed from the NFL for purposely kneeling during the playing of the national anthem and the unfurling of the American flag before the start of NFL games in 2016.
Kaepernick’s stated reason for kneeling was to bring awareness to a series of high-profile cases in which black men had died at the hands of police officers. He said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Apparently, Brees had never correctly understood Kaepernick’s motivation for kneeling. This confusion was evidenced last week as part of Brees’ explanation for why he felt so strongly about anyone refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem and the unfurling of the American flag. According to Brees, he associated respecting the anthem and the flag with respecting his two grandfathers, both of whom served in the United States military. He also mentioned that the association extended to those who had been involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. At one point in the interview, he said, “Is everything right with our country right now? No, it is 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.”
In another place and time, Brees’ comments might have been well received. That wasn’t the case, though, in the current social climate of America. In the wake of his comments, Brees was quickly and severely chastised on social media for being an out-of-touch, self-absorbed, entitled, rich, white American. The backlash became so bad that Brees had to issue a public apology. That apology said in part: “It breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused. In an attempt to talk about respect, unity, and solidarity, centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country.”
Okay, case closed, right? Brees expressed an unpopular opinion, got his hand slapped for it, and apologized. Once again, in another place and time….. But in 2020 America, Brees’ apology only made his seat hotter. On the one hand, those who had been angered by his original comments classified the apology as nothing more than a disingenuous attempt at damage control. On the other hand, those who had respected Brees for his original comments saw the apology as a cowardly sell-out designed to appease his critics. To make matters even worse, President Donald Trump joined the latter crowd by tweeting that Brees shouldn’t have taken back his original stance. That prompted Brees to take to social media yet again, this time to say to the President, “Through my ongoing conversations with my friends, teammates, and the leaders in the black community, I realize that this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been.”
Then came yesterday. That’s when Brees wife, Britanny, weighed in on the whole situation by using social media to issue a lengthy apology of her own. She began the apology by saying, “WE ARE THE PROBLEM. I write this with tears in my eyes and I hope you all hear our hearts.” She followed that up by sharing a couple of quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and promising that she and her husband will do better at not only not being racist themselves but also actively working to fight against the problem of racism. Her promise reminded me of a sign that I recently saw a protester holding as part of a peaceful rally. The sign read: “It’s not enough to not be racist. You must also be actively working to fight against racism.”
I guess the question that I’ve been dealing with these past few days goes something like this: “How should I, as a white American Christian who believes the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God, process all of this?” I’ll admit that I’m still attempting to hash out that answer, but I think I have to start with certain things that I know. For example:
- I know that Jesus died for the sins of the entire world, which includes all races.
- I know that I, as a Christian, will spend eternity with a wide variety of fellow believers who come from all races and nationalities.
- I know that Jesus made a point of ministering to those who had little or no social standing, people such as scandalous women, hated tax collectors, and Samaritans (whom the Jews despised on the grounds of racial bigotry).
- I know that Christ’s Great Commission to His followers was and still is: Go into all the world, preach the gospel, baptize believers, and teach them to observe all the things that He commanded us.
- I know that even though actively working for racial justice might be considered a slice of teaching new believers to observe all the things that Jesus commanded us, it’s not the same thing as preaching the gospel.
- I know that Jesus made no active attempt to overthrow the Roman government under which He lived His life. To the contrary, when He was at the height of his earthly popularity and His followers wanted to make Him their earthly King, He dispensed the crowd and went off by Himself to pray.
- I know that none of Jesus’ apostles made any active attempts to overthrow the Roman government under which they lived their lives.
Of course, I realize that some people would say to me, “But you can’t possibly understand the racism problem because you are a privileged white American.” Well, I’ll concede that I am a white American. Depending upon the definition of “privileged,” I might even concede that I am privileged. But does that mean that I am, by default, inherently racist? Does it mean that when Britanny Brees said, “We are the problem” that I must be grouped in with the “we”? Does it mean that I’m missing God’s will if I don’t join the marching, the rallying, and the protesting?” No, it doesn’t.
For the record, Drew Brees is a professing Christian. I don’t know if he is a legitimately born-again believer or not, but he is at least one in his way of thinking. And if he can get labeled as a racist for saying something as seemingly non-racial as he said, then I can get labeled as one, too. I mean, seriously, how can you respond when someone looks at you and says, “The color of your skin prevents you from being right on this issue”? Isn’t that comment, in and of itself, patently racist in reverse? It seems to me that it is. But then again, apparently I’m incapable of rendering an accurate assessment on this whole topic. At least that’s what some people would tell me.