NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal officially has not commented on his remarks during last Thursday’s virtual meeting of the Saints, a day after respect-the-flag remarks from quarterback Drew Brees prompted a backlash that resulted in a trail of apologies and, eventually, a renewed anthem-protest showdown with the Commander-in-Chief. Unofficially, Shaq’s message has been revealed.
“They’re going to try to divide you, just like they divided us with the Lakers!” O’Neal reportedly said, via ESPN.com. “Me and Kobe [Bryant], we had a great thing going, but the media divided our team. We could have won five more championships! Stay strong. Don’t let the media divide you! Don’t let social media divide you!”
Many would say that the Shaq-Kobe feud thrived due to the two men involved in it without media embellishment. Most would agree that the initial Saints schism came not from media efforts to drive a wedge but from the organic, natural reaction by multiple players to Brees’ comments. Multiple Saints players pushed back, aggressively and without prompting from anyone in the media.
But as the Saints try to get the players on the same page, the best way to do so is to create an us-against-them vibe, blaming the media even if the media is blameless. And it’s nothing personal to the media. The challenge in any situation like this is to find an external basis for a rallying cry. In this case, that’s pretty much all the Saints have.
By Friday night, the Saints no longer needed to blame any of this on the media. Once the President called out Brees and Brees responded in strong and pointed fashion, the problem largely had been solved. Sure, some not with the Saints still have an issue with Brees. But the Saints are back on the same page, thanks to the President’s effort, intentional or not, to put them there.