Jim Souhan
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Aaron Rodgers is my quarterback.

Drew Brees is not.

During a week that should change American history, should change America into what it always has professed to be, the Packers’ quarterback offered a simple, accurate view of the constitutionally protected right to free speech and peaceful dissent.

“A few years ago we were criticized for locking arms in solidarity before the game,’’ Rodgers posted. “It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag. Not then. Not now. Listen with an open heart, let’s educate ourselves, and then turn word and thought into action.’’

He used the hashtag symbol to promote a number of slogans, including “Liberty and justice for all.’’

Last week Brees, the Saints’ quarterback, said he will “never agree with anybody disrespecting’’ the U.S. flag, taking aim at Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who have peacefully protested the epidemic of cops killing unarmed black men.

Saints teammates and other NFL players were among those who criticized Brees. He received praise from Donald Trump. Three apologies and clarifications later, Brees was running the fastest 40-yard dash of his life away from his initial comments, acknowledging that his black peers were not attacking the flag or the national anthem but were instead peacefully protesting systemic injustice.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell even issued a statement acknowledging that his league had not listened attentively enough to black players, although he stopped short of apologizing to Kaepernick.

Rodgers did not need to revise his stance, because his stance was simple and humane. He offered empathy.

Brees, in his first comments, provided the definition of white privilege.

Brees was saying what so many white Americans believe — that no matter how horribly our country has treated black people, they do not have the right to peacefully protest.

It’s time for Americans to choose: Do you care about citizens or symbols?

If you care about symbols above the lives of black Americans, you should at least make an effort to understand what those symbols represent to them.

Standing during the national anthem is a point of pride for sports fans who have already gotten through the beer line. Many, like Brees, argue that the anthem honors soldiers who gave their lives in service to our country.

But if you were black, would you revere an anthem that was written by an outspoken slave owner, Francis Scott Key? Do you know that there is a verse of the anthem, rarely played, that references slaves?

So many Americans have come to identify the flag as a symbol of military might and sacrifice. Wouldn’t a more reasonable view be that the flag represents American history? And isn’t American history laced with racism?

One hundred years after the Civil War ended, cops were beating black marchers and “Whites Only’’ signs populated the South.

To pretend America or its sports are about equality is to proclaim the most simple-minded form of white privilege.

Modern sports leagues offer lip service to diversity but are far better at promoting symbols than promoting equality.

Every year, Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day.

Know what Robinson said after suffering racial abuse for years? “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.”

To downplay or dismiss racism in America, or racism in sports, is to use the flag as a blindfold and the anthem as white noise.

Since the killing of George Floyd we have heard from innumerable black athletes who have detailed the systemic abuse and prejudice they face daily.

And as they speak, we are all one click away from innumerable videos from every corner of the country revealing white cops beating peaceful protesters of all ethnicities.

Robinson, the patron saint of American sports equality, would be as disgusted today as he was in 1947.

Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com