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White privilege shaped Drew Brees’ comments. Here’s why it’s bigger than football.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees made controversial comments Wednesday when he shared his opinion on kneeling during the National Anthem.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance, Brees made a statement answering a question regarding Colin Kaepernick’s 2016 protest of police brutality against minorities by saying, “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.”

Brees’ comments generated widespread disapproval across the sports world, including replies from Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, and other Saints teammates Michael Thomas, Demario Davis, Malcolm Jenkins, and Alvin Kamara.

Jenkins, in particular, had harsh words for Brees in a since-deleted video:

“Our communities are under siege. And what you’re telling us is don’t ask for help that way. Ask for it a different way. And it’s unfortunate because I considered you a friend. I looked up to you. You’re somebody who I had a great deal of respect for. But sometimes you should shut the f**k up,” Jenkins said.

Michael Thomas also had a pair of Twitter statements for his quarterback:

Brees’ comments clearly come from a place of passion, as he mentions how the National Anthem reminds him of his two grandfathers who served in the armed forces during World War II.

“In many cases, it brings me to thinking about all that has been sacrificed, and not just in the military, but for that matter, those throughout the Civil Rights movements of the ’60s, and all that has been endured by so many people up to this point,” Brees said.

While Brees’ comments regarding his grandfathers are valid and come from a true place of passion it, unfortunately, raises the problem of white privilege within the NFL community. This made him naive to the issues around him, especially those generated by the recent deaths and protest movements.

By refusing to acknowledge the necessary aspects of Kaepernick’s protests in his initial comments, Brees, unfortunately, displays a level of ignorance towards the country’s current pain, which is very susceptible to backlash and controversy.

He shows that the best, most outspoken figures in the sports world are victim to white privilege, and do not understand the issues at hand.

White privilege is an issue that has affected sports for quite some time. According to David J. Leonard, author of Playing While White: Privilege and Power on and off the Field, white athletes are profiled as intelligent leaders, hard workers, and role models while colored athletes do not receive the same diagnosis.

“Sports, like America itself, is a place where race matters,” Leonard says. “It is a place where anti-black racism is ubiquitous, from the press box to the coach’s office, from the stands to the White House. It is also a place where the privileges of whiteness are a commonplace” he concludes.

These statements are all-too-familiar in the modern-day. Tim Tebow, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees are three of many athletes to be considered “household role models.”

Their Black teammates are constantly regarded as “naturally gifted,” “ungrateful with money,” and of course, “a liability.” Black athletes are rarely recognized for their hard work and passion of the sport, and instead labeled as “naturals.”

It is unfortunate that these stereotypes are not the current main issues, with us instead of having to address the murder of innocent Black men and women first. As society continues to deal with these tragedies, the privilege of white athletes will continue.

This extends past Drew Brees and into multiple star athletes today. Leonard continues his piece making an example of Tom Brady, an athlete who shares much of the privilege and social status that Brees does. “The story of Brady is the story of whiteness, of advantages and systematically produced opportunities,” Leonard says.

Similar to Brady, Brees fell out of the first round and had to “work his way” up to a starting job. Black athletes are rarely recognized with this work ethic and instead headlined with their natural gifts and police mugshots.

“White privilege is also the celebration of Bill Belichick’s hoodie as African-American youths are seen as criminals and ‘thugs’ for their similar clothing choices” Leonard continues. “It is ‘Gronk being Gronk,” while any denounced Black athletes are denounced as “selfish and out of control.”

Brees has especially profound responsibility to recognize his privilege coming from the city of New Orleans. It is a city with a majority Black population, one of the few in the United States. Furthermore, the Saints football team is an icon for the population.

Kids go to school wearing Saints hoodies, imitating Brees’s signature throws on the recess field. Representing this city, he has a clear responsibility to be something more; to recognize his privilege, and use it to shut out the assumptions and stereotypes surrounding the Black population.

Thursday morning, Brees publicly apologized for his comments. In an Instagram post, he apologized to his friends, teammates, the city of New Orleans, and the black community for his previous comments.

“In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I’ve caused,” he says. “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.”

Following his comments, several of his teammates expressed their forgiveness, notably Alvin Kamara. “It’s time for us to be part of the solution, not the problem” he exclaimed on Twitter. “We have to educate to progress.”

Thankfully, Brees seems to understand his wrongdoing. While he was not intentionally trying to disrespect anybody, his comments showed a level of naiveness and ignorance that is affecting American culture today.

White privilege is a reality, and it is most dangerous to those who do not know that they exhibit it. The best way to combat it is to spread the word, spread awareness, and peacefully educate those who lack the knowledge.

While Drew Brees and other athletes have a distinct platform for their actions, it starts with all of us. We can make a difference, we just have to reach out.