But Brees forcefully rejected the president’s position that same day. He wrote on social media: “This is not an issue about the American flag. It never has been. We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities.”
At the time, Roger Goodell, the N.F.L. commissioner, also faced intense pressure from Black players demanding that he condemn racism. In a video, he encouraged peaceful protests and issued a mea culpa for not listening earlier to concerns about social justice.
Goodell was widely criticized for not mentioning Kaepernick’s name. And Brees did not risk his career, as did Kaepernick, who has been out of the N.F.L. for four seasons. But Harry Edwards, the sports sociologist, said it was important for Black players to gain acknowledgments of regret and support from a white star like Brees and from Goodell, the commissioner of a league where some prominent team owners had given millions to Trump’s political coffers.
“It takes courage and character to say, ‘You know what, I’m wrong,’” said Edwards, a consultant for the 49ers who has been involved in social justice movements for more than a half-century. “It left Trump turning in the wind.”
On June 9, the United States Soccer Federation rescinded its ban on players kneeling for the anthem.
“I won’t be watching much anymore!” Trump tweeted on June 13. He also connected the move by U.S. Soccer to pro football: “And it looks like the NFL is heading in that direction also, but not with me watching!”
A week later, at a rally in Tulsa, Okla., Trump seemed puzzled by pushback from Goodell, Brees and other N.F.L. stars, wondering, “Where did that come from in the middle of the summer?”
“I thought we won that battle with the N.F.L.,” Trump said.