Shannon Sharpe clears the air with Drew Brees: ‘We wanted you to be one of us’

Days after facing severe backlash over comments he made condemning kneeling during the national anthem, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees Sunday reached out to FS1’s Shannon Sharpe, following Sharpe’s own scathing criticism of Brees and his comments.

In response to the killing of George Floyd – an unarmed black man who died in police custody on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota – protests and demonstrations have swept the nation and the globe, and hundreds of professional athletes have issued responses on social media and joined in the movement.

But on Wednesday of last week, in an interview with Yahoo Finance, Brees was asked how he believes the NFL should respond during the upcoming season if players choose to kneel during the national anthem, a method of peacefully protesting police brutality that was popularized by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016.

Said Brees:

“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country. Let me just tell you what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played, and when I look at the flag of the United States: I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II – one in the Army and one in the Marine Corps, both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place.

“So every time I stand with my hand over my heart, looking at that flag and singing the national anthem, that’s what I think about. And in many cases, it brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed … 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 to 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 we are all part of the solution.”

The backlash over Brees’ comments was harsh and immediate, including from Sharpe on Thursday’s Undisputed, where he expressed extreme disappointment with Brees’ stance.

“What’s made the black fight so hard is people like Drew Brees. Because if you can’t get a guy that grew up with blacks in the locker room – from peewee to high school to college to the NFL – to understand the black man’s plight, who will? … I can’t believe you, Drew … Blacks fought in World War II, alongside your grandfathers, and did not have the freedom that [your grandfathers had] when they came home, although they had sacrificed the exact same thing as his grandfathers did.”

The morning after his comments came to light and the backlash rolled in, Brees issued an apology on Instagram.

“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.”

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I would like to apologize to my friends, teammates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday. In speaking with some of you, 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. They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy. Instead, those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character. This is where I stand: I stand with the black community in the fight against systemic racial injustice and police brutality and support the creation of real policy change that will make a difference. I condemn the years of oppression that have taken place throughout our black communities and still exists today. I acknowledge that we as Americans, including myself, have not done enough to fight for that equality or to truly understand the struggles and plight of the black community. I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the black community in this movement. I will never know what it’s like to be a black man or raise black children in America but I will work every day to put myself in those shoes and fight for what is right. I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy. I am sick about the way my comments were perceived yesterday, but I take full responsibility and accountability. I recognize that I should do less talking and more listening…and when the black community is talking about their pain, we all need to listen. For that, I am very sorry and I ask your forgiveness.

A post shared by Drew Brees (@drewbrees) on

He followed up with a video apology later in the day.

“I know there’s not much that I can say that would make things any better right now, but I just want you to see in my eyes how sorry I am for the comments that I made yesterday. I know that it hurt many people.”

Still, Sharpe was reticent to accept any apology from Brees, and suggested that the quarterback should retire.

“He issued an apology, but it’s meaningless, because the guys know that he spoke his heart the very first time around. I don’t know what Drew’s gonna do, but he probably should just go ahead and retire now. It will never be the same.”

However, the tone began to shift on Saturday, when Brees reached out to Sharpe via text and asked could the two speak over the phone on Sunday.

Sharpe obliged and on Monday’s show, he shared the details of his call with Brees, which began with Brees once again apologizing for his comments before Sharpe candidly expressed his emotions.

“I said, ‘The floor is yours. You tell me what you’re thinking and then I’m gonna tell you what I’m thinking and why I reacted the way I reacted.’ And [Drew] said, ‘First of all, I wanna apologize. I wanna say that I’m sorry, not only just to you but to the entire black community. … I can understand … the feelings that you guys felt, because it does come off that I lack compassion, that I lack empathy, that I lack understanding. And that’s not my heart.’ He said, ‘If anything, if you know me … I think you’d know that I have a good heart and I’ve immersed myself in New Orleans since I arrived here … For 15 years, I’ve been a pillar in the community. I don’t want one bad mistake to ruin everything that I’ve built.'”

After Brees apologized to Sharpe and explained his newfound understanding, Sharpe shared with Brees his feelings on the matter, telling the longtime Saints quarterback that he was shocked the comments came from him.

“[I said], ‘The freedom and the pride that you feel when you stand for that flag, everybody does not feel that same sense of pride because they haven’t been afforded some of the same opportunities that you and some of your ancestors have been afforded.’ … ‘Other quarterbacks could have said exactly what you said and everybody would have been upset, but they would have said they expected that from him. But given you, in New Orleans, what you’ve done in the community … Why you think your teammates lashed out at you like that? Because they couldn’t believe that came from you.'”

Much of Sharpe’s shock and dismay regarding Brees’ comments is a result of Brees’ standing in the New Orleans community, a community that is nearly 60% black.

Brees arrived in New Orleans in 2006, one year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans and displaced the Saints from the Superdome, their home stadium.

Since his arrival, Brees has become instrumental in the community, mainly due to his efforts in helping rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

In 2006, he was co-recipient of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for his relief efforts, and in 2010, the same year he led the Saints to their first-ever Super Bowl title, Brees was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year, “for not only leading the New Orleans Saints to the first Super Bowl title in the franchise’s history, but also for helping lead the city of New Orleans’ rebirth after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.”

Said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell of Brees in 2010, upon receiving the SI Sportsman of the Year honor, “He symbolizes the people of New Orleans in many, many ways. Drew believes in that community. He believes in doing what’s right. He’s one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.”

Brees and his wife, Brittany, also established the Brees Dream Foundation in New Orleans and San Diego – Brees played for the San Diego Chargers from 2001-05 – which has raised over $6 million in an effort to “[advance] research in the fight against cancer and providing care, education and opportunities for children in need.”

Most recently, Brees and his wife donated $5 million to the state of Louisiana in order to support families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards thanked the Brees family on behalf of the state.

Given Brees and his family’s history of supporting the New Orleans community, coupled with Brees’ apology during their Sunday conversation, Sharpe said on Monday that he feels better about the situation and that he believes Brees deserves a second chance.

“After talking to him, I could feel the pain … I don’t believe him saying what he said should be the end of Drew Brees. I believe he deserves another opportunity for redemption because he’s been too good in that community to let this one slip up undo 15 years of great service.”

Brees’ wife also issued an apology on behalf of her family via the Brees Dream Foundation Instagram on Saturday.

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WE ARE THE PROBLEM . I write this with tears in my eyes and I hope you all hear our hearts. I have read these quotes and scripture 1000 times and every time I read it and the words sink into my heart. I think yes this is what it’s all about…Only until the last few days ,until we experienced the death threats we experienced the hate… Did I realize that these words were speaking directly to us.. how could anyone who knows us or has had interactions with us think that Drew or I have a racist bone in our body? But that’s the whole point . Somehow we as white America, we can feel good about not being racist, feel good about loving one an another as God loves us. We can feel good about educating our children about the horrors of slavery and history. We can read books to our children about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X., Hank Aaron, Barack Obama, Rosa parks, Harriet Tubman.. and feel like we are doing our part to raise our children to love , be unbiased and with no prejudice. To teach them about all of the African Americans that have fought for and risked their lives against racial injustice. Somehow as white Americans we feel like that checks the box of doing the right thing. Not until this week did Drew and I realize THAT THIS IS THE PROBLEM. To say “I don’t agree with disrespecting the flag “.. I now understand was also saying I don’t understand what the problem really is, I don’t understand what you’re fighting for, and I’m not willing to hear you because of our preconceived notion‘s of what that flag means to us. That’s the problem we are not listening, white America is not hearing. We’re not actively LOOKING for racial prejudice. We have heard stories from men and women we have known and loved for years about the racism that occurred in their lives .. stories that were never shared or talked about because somehow they were considered normal. To all of our friends and anyone we hurt …we will do better.. We want to do better , we want to HEAR you, and we will fight for you because thinking we are not part of the problem…is checking the box it means we are are not doing enough. It’s our job to educate ourselves. We are sorry 🙏🏻 -Brittany Brees

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However, despite the positive conversation between Sharpe and Brees, Skip Bayless is still unsure whether Brees can mend the bridges that seemed to be burnt between the quarterback and his teammates less than a week ago.

“Not one or two, but all of the black, star teammates of Drew Brees condemned what he had said and it was scathing on all parts … What it is to me is this elite, white insensitivity, where you just live in your own world … He’s insensitive to it because he’s just fine in the world he lives in. But the world a majority of his teammates live in is an extremely different world.”

Since his comments this past Wednesday, Brees has taken ownership for how they were received and apologized at every turn, so much so that one of his harshest critics, teammate and superstar wide receiver Michael Thomas, posted this tweet on Saturday.

Time will tell where Brees’ relationships in the locker room go from here, but you know what they say: once you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up.