Following Drew Brees' comments about kneeling during the national anthem, there were discussions about how his fellow players would treat him. NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal shared this concern and delivered a strong message to the New Orleans Saints. He called for the team to avoid letting the media divide them.
The Saints previously scheduled a meeting for all of the players, which featured O'Neal as a guest. The subject matter changed once Brees conducted a now-infamous interview with Yahoo! Finance in which he said he believed players kneeling during the national anthem was disrespecting the flag and the military. He used the meeting to apologize to teammates for "missing the mark." O'Neal was present for the entire meeting and delivered his strong message at the end, much to the surprise of the players.
"They're going to try to divide you, just like they divided us with the Lakers! Me and Kobe [Bryant], we had a great thing going, but the media divided our team," O'Neal said during the meeting, per ESPN. "We could have won five more championships! Stay strong. Don't let the media divide you! Don't let social media divide you!"
While O'Neal did not divulge his entire message to the team due to coach Sean Payton's wishes, he did provide some insight into Brees' apology. He said that the players told the quarterback that he had made a mistake. However, they still accepted his apology.
"They said, 'Drew, we know your character. We know you stepped in some stuff that you can't get out of, but guess what: We want you to do more positive things and less talking.' And they all said we accept your apology," O'Neal told ESPN.
O'Neal expressed concern about the media and social media in the days following analysts and fans alike dragging Brees. Saints fans chanted "f— Drew Brees" during a Black Lives Matter protest while Undisputed co-host Shannon Sharpe said that the veteran QB should just "go ahead and retire." Several public figures have criticized Brees, but O'Neal doesn't want there to be issues between teammates.
Several members of the Saints have spoken out after Brees apologized to them privately and in public. Wide receiver Michael Thomas said that he accepted the apology while linebacker Demario Davis said it was a sign of "true leadership." Defensive end Cameron Jordan said that Brees had "dropped the bar," but he also agreed that the apology was a sign of leadership and talked about creating change through open dialogue and open hearts.