“I love and respect my teammates, and I stand right there with them in regard to fighting for racial equality and justice,” Brees said. “I also stand with my grandfathers, who risked their lives for this country, and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis.”
I believe that Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, is a good guy and that he meant every word he said. I also believe that he is a naive danger to progress. It starts with him conflating military men and women fighting for this country and Blacks and African American’s fighting to be seen and heard in this country. There is a difference between a platoon fighting on foreign soil in order to protect the American way of life and a platoon fighting on our soil in order to ensure everyone can experience an equal way of life. Our military is not responsible for the latter nor do people blame them for inequality in this country. What is more, they are not responsible for fighting American’s who are fighting for equality, a fact that several current and former Department of Defense leaders and experts have reminded Trump over these past several days.
To Drew Brees and so many other people who oppose kneeling in protest, the flag is a symbol of the sacrifices of military men and women. Military men and women who fight for this country.
To Colin Kaepernick and so many other people who support kneeling in protest, the flag is a symbol of a country that has yet to figure out or even prioritize equalizing the American experience for every American.
I served in the military. I also worked in the Department of Defense (DoD) for 16 years. I also donated more than $200,000 to various programs that support military veterans. I am grateful for every single one of them as they fought and continue to fight for this country.
This conflicted country whose greatness is seen more clearly by foreigners than the very people who live within it. This conflicted country that turns a blind eye to glaring equality gaps between Whites and everyone else. This conflicted country that is staring racial injustice in the eye almost 60 years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act. This is what the kneeling is in protest to. They are not protesting the flag but the country the flag flies for. The country that has left them behind as every meaningful statistic will show.
The country that has watched black people die or get harassed for being black. The country that, amid these racist acts, displays temporary grief before going back to their daily lives as if these incidents were bumps in the road of an otherwise happy trip.
Drew Brees has had a happy trip and I don’t hate him for it. Professional athletes earn their money by working out, playing at the highest levels, getting endorsement deals, and making their team owners rich. But his happy trip is not what most people experience. This is doubly true for Blacks and African American’s. What is more, his happy trip is made possible not only because of the sacrifices of military men and women past and present but also at the expense of Blacks and African American’s.
A couple of years back, I was facilitating a culture session in an organization comprised of a lot of military members. One of them said, “I’m tired of people assuming that kneeling is disrespectful to us”. I asked him why he was tired of it, to which he responded, “The flag is a symbol of a country and a set of values that we are supposed to be fighting for. Except, American’s are not adhering to these values and people are getting tired of it”. Another military member chimed in and said, “They’re not blowing up at us. They know what we can or can’t control. We’re focused on Iraq and Egypt. We’re not the local police or the businesses. Don’t get it twisted”. In culture facilitation, it is critical to understand collective regard. As such, it was my job to ensure that I understood how the majority of the audience felt about the remarks of these two service members. 89% of the people in the room, every one of them DoD civilians or military members, agreed. This was also my experience while serving as the Culture Executive at two large DoD agencies where my daily job was to understand the collective regard of 10,000 plus size workforce’s.
We are in a crucial time of racial justice — a time where a diverse cross-section of people are waking up to what has been a centuries-long nightmare for Blacks and African American’s. They are protesting in cities across the country and the last thing we need is for people to get it twisted. After all, there are already counter movements attempting to disrupt the voices and quell progress. When someone like Drew Brees confuses kneeling with disrespecting the flag and service members who fought for it, he is adding fuel to their fire. What is more, he is contradicting his own words: “I stand right there with them in regard to fighting for racial equality and justice”.
Well, a lot of “them” want to kneel in protest for change that will enable Blacks and African American’s to stand right there with Whites on an equal playing field. A field in a country where all people are not treated equal. A country that has a flag that has nothing to do with this inequality.