METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees on Saturday reiterated his vow to stand with the Black community for social justice, saying it "broke my heart" and was "crushing" that his June comments about disrespecting the flag by kneeling during the national anthem made people feel differently.
The New Orleans Saints quarterback, who began his first training camp news conference with a prepared statement, said he will always stand for the national anthem because of what it means to him, but respects those who don't to bring attention to social injustices.
"I acknowledge and respect anyone who chooses to kneel or any other form of peaceful protest to bring attention to the social injustices and systemic racism that so many have endured and continue to endure in our country," Brees said.
Brees said he has continued to have many positive talks with teammates who were critical of his comments in June -- specifically mentioning veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins, whom he called a friend and an "ally."
Brees said he and his teammates have reconciled and "all of our goals are aligned" both on and off the field.
"This is not about me. Our focus as a team and group of leaders is on this season and all the things we can accomplish together for social justice," Brees said.
"I've always been someone who has felt compelled to serve," Brees said to begin his statement, adding that it was the main reason why he and his wife Brittany chose to come to New Orleans and help the community rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Katrina when he was a free agent in 2006. "I knew I had a chance to be a part of something much greater than myself. And the last 15 years in New Orleans have been some of the proudest, most rewarding moments of our lives.
"Going back to my comment on June 3rd, to think for a second that New Orleans or the state of Louisiana or the Black community would think that I was not standing with them for social justice, that completely broke my heart. It was crushing. Never ever would I feel that way. Now, I recognize that I missed an opportunity that day. I had an opportunity to talk about and emphasize the social injustices that exist for our Black community and our need as a country to support them and to advocate for systemic change. And my lack of awareness in that moment hurt a lot of people.
"I will always support and advocate for the Black and brown communities in the fight for social justice. Always. ... I'm the same person now that I've always been. I'm someone who cares deeply for people in my community, New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, people everywhere. I'm someone who will always address the inequities and the disparities that exist. I'm someone who has great empathy for those who are hurting, struggling or victims of injustice. And I'm someone who feels a great sense of responsibility to serve and to lead and to bring true equality to everyone."
Several of Brees' teammates have publicly accepted his apologies and applauded his sincerity -- especially after he directed a message to President Donald Trump on social media insisting that, "We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our Black communities."
Brees and his wife also have pledged a total of $10 million in donations to Louisiana this offseason for coronavirus relief, including their recent pledge of $5 million dedicated to providing health care in underserved communities. The Brees family also was the presenting sponsor of the Black College Football Hall of Fame's "The Road to Equality" event.
Saints left tackle and team captain Terron Armstead said this week that he is "extremely confident" that Brees and his teammates will move forward in a positive manner.
"Drew faced everything head-on, and that's all you can ask for," Armstead said. "The best way to move forward is to face everything head-on. Invite any questions, comments or concerns."
Saints coach Sean Payton also addressed the issue head-on following Brees' comments in June, encouraging the team to have open, heartfelt discussions about their feelings instead of a regularly scheduled team meeting over video conferencing.
Nearly two months later, Payton said he believes the team is ready to move forward.
"I think the locker room is in good shape," Payton said. "I don't see any need to address anything relative to that. I think the players' focus will be on earning a roster spot and that'll be most important. That'll be the same for the coaches."
Meanwhile, the 41-year-old Brees, who has already lined up a post-football career as a television analyst for NBC, said he has not made any decision on whether his 20th NFL season will be his last.
Although Payton hinted in the spring that he thought this potentially could be the quarterback's last season, Brees said, "Man, I am not looking past one day at a time."
"With the new normal, we're navigating that. And I'm just taking it literally one day at a time," Brees said. "Listen, I'm excited for this season. There's obviously a lot of unknowns and a lot of variables and a lot of things that we're gonna have to navigate. But I think that's something we've always been good at.
"And going back to the reason I came back [for this season]. My wife and I had this conversation back when I made the decision. Yes, I'm coming back and I want to play for my team. But I also feel that this year is gonna be about something much greater than football. And, at this point, I think that was an understatement."