How other Saints leaders spoke up after Drew Brees became center of turmoil

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It seemed almost impossible after the fires that were ignited throughout the New Orleans Saints’ roster on Wednesday that by 9 a.m. Thursday, coach Sean Payton could be tweeting the words, “This is another example of why I love OUR team. #ChangeIsComing”

Payton was applauding team captain and NFL Players Coalition leader Demario Davis, calling Davis a “special man” for the way he went on multiple national TV stations to accept quarterback Drew Brees’ apology and even suggest that it was “leadership at its finest” for Brees to admit his comments on national anthem protests were so misguided.

But Davis wasn’t alone. Other high-profile players — even ones like receiver Michael Thomas who had harshly rebuked Brees on social media a day earlier — also publicly accepted Brees’ apology or expressed optimism that the team could grow stronger from their heartfelt discussions.

Brees drew an overwhelming amount of backlash Wednesday after he reiterated his stance that he will “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America” during an interview with Yahoo Finance. Brees was asked during the interview how he would feel if players kneel during the national anthem this season to continue protesting racial injustice and police brutality.8

Of course these are not wounds that can be healed in one day. And several players made it clear publicly and privately that they are still hurt, disappointed and angry over Brees’ comments.

But what was so important about the teamwide response Thursday was that the Saints showed they could count on so many other leaders to guide them through a difficult situation even when a leader like Brees had become the center of their turmoil.

Davis, Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Cameron Jordan, Terron Armstead, Thomas Morstead and Craig Robertson were among those promoting a path forward. Safety Malcolm Jenkins did not comment immediately after Brees’ apologies on Thursday. But he did post a message on Instagram late Friday night after Brees followed up on his pledge to be an “ally” for the black community by sending an open letter to President Donald Trump. “Drew, as much as your comments hurt me and many other people, I appreciate you for listening, because being heard is a big part of it,” Jenkins said.

It was a necessary first step. As one player put it bluntly. “It’s a lot of work to be done. He had no idea of the magnitude of his words. You would assume someone with his knowledge and experience would know better, but he didn’t see it that way. He f—ed up. But I feel he will do everything in his power to make things right.”

By no means has Brees received universal forgiveness. Some players who rebuked his comments Wednesday, including Jenkins, safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson and receiver Emmanuel Sanders, didn’t say anything publicly Thursday. Many other players haven’t spoken up publicly at all.

But those like Davis, who were willing to embrace Brees’ apology while still making it clear his actions need to prove his words are genuine, were taking a first step.