New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees sparked huge controversy on social media Wednesday by saying he would object to NFL players again protesting by kneeling down during the anthem, calling it “disrespectful to the flag”.

In the context of the wave of national outrage over the crime of African-American George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, NFL teammates and other sports figures like LeBron James exploded against the statements of the veteran quarterback.

In the demonstrations, which continue to spread more than a week after the crime, the figure of Colin Kaepernick, the field marshal who in 2016 began to put a knee on the ground during the anthem before the games as a gesture against racism and police brutality against African Americans.

Kaepernick, who had led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl three years earlier, has not been rehired since his franchise released him at the end of the 2016 season.

President Donald Trump himself then insulted Kaepernick and other players who adopted the same gesture and asked that they be fired.

Although such protests have subsided in the NFL, the sports world has in recent weeks turned to supporting protests over the death of African-American George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, and the protests are expected. Kaepernick-style return to the NFL next season.

Brees, who joined the “Black Out Tuesday” campaign in support of the protests on Tuesday, acknowledged the problems his country is facing but disagreed with protesting on the field during the American anthem.

“I will never agree with someone who does not respect the flag of the United States,” Brees said in an interview with Yahoo.

“When I look at the flag, I see my two grandparents, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corps,” he said.

“Is everything okay with our country right now? No, it is not,” he said. “We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect for the flag with your hand over your heart shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together, that we can all do better and we are all part of the solution. “

Brees’ comments sparked a furious reaction from other athletes, both inside and outside the NFL, and many accused him of misinterpreting the nature of Kaepernick’s protest, starting with NBA Los Angeles Lakers superstar Lebron James.

“WOW !! Is it still amazing at this point. Of course not! You literally still don’t understand why Kap got down on one knee yet?” James replied to Brees. “It has nothing to do with disrespect for our soldiers.”

Aaron Rodgers, another of the NFL’s great quarterbacks, posted a message about the controversy without citing Brees.

“It has NEVER been about a hymn or a flag. Neither then nor now,” Rodgers wrote on Instagram. “Listen with an open heart, educate ourselves, and then turn word and thought into action.”

The reproaches to Brees even came from his own locker room.

“He doesn’t know,” Saints receiver Michael Thomas wrote on Twitter. “We don’t care if you disagree or if someone else doesn’t. How about that?”

For his side, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the society is indebted to Kaepernick for taking a step forward in this cause. “He defended something he believed in,” he acknowledged.

Brees, 41, has been considered a New Orleans sports hero since leading the Saints in 2010 to his only Super Bowl victory, at a time when the city was still resenting the catastrophe caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In March, the player announced a donation of five million dollars to feed children and adults affected by the new coronavirus pandemic.