New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees issued an apology Thursday for his comments on "disrespecting the flag," saying he "completely missed the mark" on current issues in the United States and that it "breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused."
During an interview with Yahoo Finance on Wednesday, Brees reiterated his stance that he will "never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America." He later told ESPN that he stands with his teammates fighting for racial equality and justice but also with the military, past and present.
The comments drew harsh criticism from a number of people, including his teammate Malcolm Jenkins, who said he was hurt by Brees' comments and that they were "extremely self-centered."
In an Instagram post Thursday, Brees said he was apologizing to his friends, teammates, New Orleans, the black community, the NFL community and "anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday."
"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," Brees wrote. "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."
Brees continued to say he stands with the black community "in the fight against systemic racial injustice and police brutality" while supporting the creation of real policy change.
He also condemned the years of oppression the black community has faced -- and continues to face. And he acknowledged 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."
Saints linebacker Demario Davis credited Brees for issuing the apology, calling it a form of true leadership.
"What we had hoped the first time was that Drew would elaborate more on racism and the sentiments of the black community," Davis said during an interview Thursday morning on CNN. "And he admitted he missed the mark. So for him to come out and say, 'I missed the mark, I've been insensitive, but what I'm gonna start doing is listening and learning from the black community and finding ways that I can help them,' I think that's a model for all of America."
Davis also stressed the need to "stay focused on the issue at hand" and not make the discussion about "a player's response or statement or apology."
"We all have played a part also in helping direct the narrative away from the issues. We've all played a part in that, in getting caught up in different topics," Davis said. "At the end of the day, police brutality in America is a problem, racism in America is a problem, systematic injustice is a problem.
"... We need to eradicate that problem now. And we have the opportunity now. We have the collective voices, we have people united and speaking out about a cause and an issue that has existed for far too long. And we can do that by continuing to stay focused on the issue at hand. We all missed the mark before we had this opportunity."
Saints coach Sean Payton applauded Davis' comments in a tweet Thursday.
— Sean Payton (@SeanPayton) June 4, 2020
Brees concluded his post by expressing his dismay over how his words have affected people.
"I am sick about the way my comments were perceived yesterday, but I take full responsibility and accountability," Brees wrote. "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."