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New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Photo: Mark Brown/Getty Images

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees elicited backlash on Wednesday for saying in a Yahoo News interview that NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality are "disrespecting the flag of the United States of America."

Why it matters: Brees' comments come in the wake of George Floyd's killing while in police custody last week. Major cities including Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Portland have had consecutive days of massive crowds protesting police-related violence against black people.

  • Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick first kneeled during the national anthem in 2016, sparking a movement to protest racial inequality.
  • Kaepernick opted out of his contract in 2017 after the San Francisco 49ers planned to release him following national outrage. He then became a free agent but was not signed by another team. He alleged in 2018 that NFL team owners colluded to keep him off rosters due to his politics.
  • In 2016, Brees spoke in support of Kaepernick's message, but he openly disagreed with his tactic.

What they're saying: Brees' remarks on the flag drew a sharp rebuke on social media from his fellow professional athletes.

  • LeBron James tweeted in response: "WOW MAN!! Is it still surprising at this point. Sure isn’t! You literally still don’t understand why Kap was kneeling on one knee?? Has absolute nothing to do with the disrespect of [the flag] and our soldiers (men and women) who keep our land free."

Brees also said that while he stands "right there with [his teammates] in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice," he defends the "grandfathers who risked their lives for this country and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis."

  • Devin and Jason McCourty, twins who play for the New England Patriots, tweeted from a joint account: "This is a disgrace! To speak about your grandfathers as if there weren’t black men fighting next to them. Those men later returned to a country that hated them."
  • "Don’t avoid the issue and try to make it about a flag or the military. Fight like your grandfathers for whats right!"

Go deeper

LeBron James on Trump NBA protest remarks: "We could care less"

The Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James kneels during the national anthem before the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on Wednesday. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

LeBron James responded on Wednesday night to President Trump's comments calling NBA players "disgraceful" for kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism and that he won't watch games if they knelt.

The big picture: Trump has repeatedly criticized sports players for taking the knee since 2016. But James said during a news conference, "I really don’t think the basketball community are sad about losing his viewership, him viewing the game." November's elections marked "a big moment for us as Americans," he said. "If we continue to talk about, 'We want better, we want change,' we have an opportunity to do that," he added. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said the league will "respect peaceful protest."

Go deeper: LeBron James forms voting rights group to inspire Black voters

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As America emerges from the pandemic, here's a special Axios AM Deep Dive on the Biden administration's health care agenda.

17 mins ago - World

Palestinian Authority announces new COVID restrictions as cases surge

A nurse administers the COVID-19 vaccine to a Palestinian in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. Photo: Hazem Bader/AFP via Getty Images

The Palestinian Authority on Saturday announced fresh coronavirus restrictions, including a partial lockdown, for the occupied West Bank as COVID-19 cases surge.

The big picture: The new measures come as Israel, which leads the world in vaccinations, faces increased pressure to ensure Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip have equal access to vaccines.