New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has condemned American President Donald Trump for bluntly declining to change his stance on the controversial kneeling protest.
The kneeling pose has been seen at protests against police brutality in cities across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, while in police custody in Minneapolis.
NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick popularised the move in 2016 while he was on the San Francisco 49ers roster, kneeling during the customary pre-game airing of the American national anthem.
Brees copped heavy criticism this week for refusing to support NFL players who knelt during the national anthem.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said earlier this week.
"Let me just tell what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played and when I look at the flag of the United States. I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corp. Both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place.
"So every time I stand with my hand over my heart looking at that flag and singing the national anthem, that's what I think about. And in many cases, that brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed."
Brees' comments were criticised by several high-profile sports stars, including teammate Michael Thomas and NBA superstar LeBron James.
The 41-year-old later apologised for the remarks, and said his words "lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy".
But today, the US President tweeted Brees "should not have taken back his original stance".
Trump was an early critic of the protest, and in 2017 vice president Mike Pence walked out of an NFL game between the 49ers and the Indianapolis Colts when some of the players knelt on the sidelines during the anthem.
"We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart," Trump wrote.
"There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag — NO KNEELING!"
However, Brees, who was pictured attending the College Football National Championship with Trump in January, replied with an open letter addressed to Trump on his Instagram, arguing the "white community need to listen and learn from the pain and suffering of our black communities."
"Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realise this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been," Brees wrote.
"We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities.
"We did this back in 2017, and regretfully I brought it back with my comments this week.
"We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform.
"We are at a critical juncture in our nation's history! If not now, then when?
"We must acknowledge the problems, identify the solutions, and then put this into action.
"The black community cannot do it alone. This will require all of us."
Patrick Mahomes, Saquon Barkley and Michael Thomas were among more than a dozen NFL stars who united to send a passionate video message to the league about racial inequality.
The 70-second video was released on social media platforms on Thursday night and also includes Odell Beckham Jr, Deshaun Watson, Ezekiel Elliott, Jamal Adams, and Stephon Gilmore.
It is followed by their message to the NFL: "We will not be silenced. We assert our right to peacefully protest. It shouldn't take this long to admit."
The NFL posted its own message on Saturday saying they stand with the black community and they know they can and need to do more.