Before Friday afternoon, Saints quarterback Drew Brees had issued multiple apologies for reiterating his viewpoint on peaceful protests during the national anthem without addressing whether he had abandoned his position, as stated on Wednesday, that he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag.” On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump publicly chastised Brees for doing something he had not yet publicly done.
In response to President Trump’s tweets directed at Brees, Brees realized that he had to pick a side. And he did.
Cajoled and challenged by Trump into doing so, Brees has plainly and publicly abandoned his viewpoint that protests during the national anthem constitute disrespect of the flag.
It’s a significant, and powerful, concession from Brees. His prior public apologies didn’t say that it’s not about the flag, an omission that likely was not accidental as Brees searched for a potential middle ground that allowed him to show empathy to the struggles of the black community when dealing with law enforcement while also reserving the right, in the event that he eventually launches his own political career (some believe that’s inevitable) to re-embrace a position that will ingratiate him to a specific segment of the American population — or, perhaps more importantly, that will not alienate them.
If that’s what was going on (and Occam’s razor is an eternal beacon in these contexts), Brees ditched the effort to straddle the fence and came down clearly, unequivocally, and publicly on the side of an issue that will piss off plenty of people, starting with Donald Trump and the Fifth Avenue band.
Coupled with Commissioner Roger Goodell’s compelling video message from earlier in the evening, Brees’ message to the President amounts to the drawing of a line in the sand by the NFL for a political fight to come, especially as the President tries to pump up his base in order to maximize turnout for the November election. At a time when the NFL already is concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the bottom line, the league now has to worry about whether a reprise of the 2017-style son-of-bitches attack from the President will impact TV ratings, especially if players decide to take a knee in peaceful and silent protest during the anthem in 2020.
In 2018, the NFL and the President quietly established a truce, sparked in transactional fashion by the administration securing a favorable term for the league in a new Canadian trade deal, by Goodell publicly thanking Trump for the favor, and by Trump publicly expressing appreciation for the show of gratitude by Goodell.
That back-and-forth marked significant progress in a relationship that had included Trump calling Goodell in 2015 “a dope” and “a stupid guy.” Those insults likely will be returning in the coming months, with Trump ramping up attacks on players who protest and those who allow them to do so.
“This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Trump told Cowboys owner Jerry Jones during the initial NFL-DJT battle over the anthem. “Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.”
Given recent events and polling that reflects their negative consequences on a re-election effort, the President will need any lifts he can find in advance of the election. And, as lifts goes, this one is low-hanging fruit for Trump.