Missed the mark. Tone deaf. Unaware of the situation. Out of sync. Unprepared for the obvious questions.
Any of the above would be a pretty accurate way to describe why Drew Brees found himself in that recent cross fire of intense criticism over his ill-timed and ill-advised response to a question about ongoing protests on social inequality and police brutality.
Brees’ comments, no matter how far off the true topic they might have been, did not deserve the vitriol and the firestorm of harsh backlash and name-calling that spewed from current and former NFL players, stars from other pro leagues, media types, social advocates, politicians, and, yes, even from his own Saints teammates.
Brees is too young to know about E.F. Hutton. But he has to know that when he speaks, everyone listens.
In the current climate, following the horrific killing of George Floyd at the hands and knees of a Minneapolis police officer, every sentence, word and declaration pertaining to race relations and social justice by any public figure such as Brees will be picked apart.
But please, rein in the rage and give Brees some slack for what he admitted were remarks that “missed the mark.”
Before anyone stoked the Twitter flames or brandished a mic to yell and pound from their respective podiums, they needed to be reminded that Brees helped rebuild the inner city of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
Neither Brees, nor any of his representatives, reminded any of his recent detractors about the Brees Dream Foundation, or his recent $5 million personal donation to Louisiana to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and his far-reaching efforts to upgrade and restore battered New Orleans schools, parks, youth centers and athletic facilities.
He has been honored as the NFL’s Man of the Year and Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year for his endeavors to help the underprivileged and families in need. How in the world was all this good forgotten so quickly in the midst of the intense blowback after Brees’ self-admitted misspeak during an obscure online interview with Yahoo! Finance?
The reason is pretty simple. Right now it seems what you say and how you say it supersedes all else, including years of good deeds and front-line social work.
In the case of the Saints future Hall of Fame quarterback, actions don’t speak louder than words.
The mistake Brees made was not being fully prepared to answer any and all questions concerning the George Floyd killing and the ensuing protests and riots. Before doing any media interview, he should have reached out and consulted any number of public relations and media experts through his myriad of business interests or with the Saints communications staff.
Any public or media relations reps worth their salt would have prepped Brees on the five or six critical questions that he would be asked regarding the death of Floyd in late May, the ensuing social protests and unrest, along with how the NFL might respond to the situation and the call from players that the league needs to take a stand.
Let me offer you a peak under the media curtain that pertains to this situation.
A one-on-one media interview is much like a press conference with an assortment of reporters and writers. You go in fully aware of the time, context and story lines of the hour, day or week and have your answers ready to go on those points and any obvious follow-up questions.
Believe me, Brees knows this and is very adept at dealing with the press and skilled at answering a variety of questions on football or off-topic. He chooses his words carefully and responds with sufficient insight.
It’s really not that difficult unless you are President Trump squaring off against the White House press corp with a propensity for going rogue and off-script.
Brees had to know at some point during that interview with Yahoo! Finance’s Daniel Roberts that questions would come early about the Floyd killing, the national unrest, Colin Kaepernick’s protest and how the NFL and possibly the Saints would respond to the social protests once the season begins.
And the question was posed in a straightforward fashion. It concerned how the NFL should react when the players undoubtedly resume their protests this season by kneeling during the national anthem. Part of the question mentioned Kaepernick’s kneeling, police brutality and Brees’ opinions as one of the NFL’s revered leaders.
Brees answered the question about protest and kneeling promptly, saying he “would never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.”
The problem was he answered it too quickly.
It was the first question about anything related to the Floyd tragedy, social injustice and protests. Simply put, Brees’ brain appeared to be on micro mode, first answering the direct question about the NFL’s stance on sideline player protests. He should have had a more macro view of what was going on around the country at that moment. His remarks needed to focus on that key topic, which was a black man being murdered by a rogue, white police officer in a despicable act that was caught on camera for nearly nine minutes for the world to see.
If he had been properly prepped, Brees would have first and foremost stated his disgust over the Floyd killing, continued police brutality against blacks and his unequivocal support for social justice and equality.
If Brees had done that initially, anything he said next about his opposition to kneeling during the national anthem as a means to protest would have been debated on its own merit. And I don’t believe he would have been skewered publicly to the level that he so wrongly was.
If you listen to Brees’ full answer, he did say “is everything right with our country right now? No, it’s not and we have a long way to go.”
In media speak, he should have led with that.
Like all of us, Brees was obviously disgusted and saddened by the killing of Floyd during his arrest in Minneapolis. He is concerned over the racial tensions and the effects of the violent riots amid the peaceful protests that are tearing at many cities and communities around the country.
As he has done before during many times of crisis, Brees will figure out a way to be a part of the solution and lend his voice, his actions and his foundation monies to help people in need.
He does have the right to express his true feelings and disagreement about players, or anyone else for that matter, who kneel during the national anthem, protest or not.
At that precise moment, during a media interview, with racially charged protests spreading across the country and everyone on edge, not even the most patriotic among us would have blamed Brees for putting the national anthem issue on the back burner.
Believe me, that debate and conundrum are not going away, and Brees will have ample opportunities to address them if and when the season resumes.
Saints teammates Malcolm Jenkins and Michael Thomas have the right to call out their quarterback for his remarks. But they should first have reached out and talked to Brees before making any speeches on social media and posting negative comments on Twitter.
Both of them, and the rest of the Saints team, should know the man’s heart and what’s in it before ever questioning Brees’ character and values.
This quarterback always leads from the front, and that’s why his apology and explanation were the right thing to do.
Drew Brees has proven time and again he will always do the right thing.
In this situation, I can’t say that about most of his critics.
Rick Sarro’s perspectives and commentary can be heard on Soundoff 60, which airs on CBS Lake Charles on Tuesday and Thursday at 10:05 pm and on Saturday at 6:30 pm and 11 pm. Soundoff 60 also airs nightly on Suddenlink cable channel 4 at 9 pm and on You Tube (through cbscharles.tv).