Houston Texans owner Bob McNair has released an apology following controversial comments he reportedly made during a meeting with NFL owners and players.
On Oct. 17, 11 NFL owners and 13 players met at league headquarters in New York City. The anthem protests were the impetus for the meeting. But what resulted wasn't a mandate that players have to stand for the anthem but that the league and the NFLPA would work together on how to move forward, according to an exhaustive story from Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. of ESPN the Magazine.
"Respecting the flag" was important optically but so too was addressing players' concerns about social inequality, which was the reason Colin Kaepernick protested during the anthem for the first time in August 2016.
For two days after the 24 owners and players convened, all the NFL owners met to discuss, among other things, what to do about sagging ratings, which was directly related to fans' anger at the anthem protests.
On Day 2 of the meetings, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told his colleagues that they needed to seriously consider the impact the anthem issue was having on the league's bottom line, and to some in the room Jones was building towards an mandate that would require players to stand during the anthem, similar to NBA's rule.
According to Wickersham and Van Natta, as Jones made his case, Redskins owner Dan Snyder said, "See, Jones gets it -- 96 percent of Americans are for guys standing," a remark some dismissed as an overstatement. Texans owner and Trump supporter Bob McNair spoke next, and he had many of the same concerns as Jones.
"We can't have the inmates running the prison," McNair reportedly said, referring to the players.
After the owners had spoken, NFL executive and former NFL player Troy Vincent stood up. He was offended by McNair's "inmates" comments. And according to Wickersham and Van Natta, "Vincent said that in all his years of playing in the NFL -- during which, he said, he had been called every name in the book, including the N-word -- he never felt like an 'inmate.'"
Later, McNair pulled Vincent aside to apologize -- saying he felt horrible and this his words weren't to be taken literally. Vincent reportedly appreciated McNair's apology.
The Houston Texans also posted an apology to the team's Facebook page on Friday:
According to the Associated Press on Friday afternoon, Texans left tackle Duane Brown told reporters that he was "sickened" by McNair's words.
"I think the comments were disrespectful, I think it was ignorant, I think it was embarrassing," Brown said. "I think it angered a lot of players, including myself. We put our bodies and minds every time we step on the field. To use an analogy of inmates in a prison, I would say they're disrespectful."
Coach Bill O'Brien was asked about the situation, but wouldn't get into specifics about it as his team prepared for a game against the Seahawks.
"It's been addressed," he said. "I'm really here to talk about Seattle. I'm 100 percent with these players. Our coaching staff's 100 percent behind these players. If you have Seattle questions, that's what I'm here to talk about, with all due respect, and there's a lot of respect there. I just want to focus on Seattle. I think that's what our team is trying to do."
Brown is the only Texan who has participated in the anthem protests, raising his fist at the end of the anthem at a game in New England last season. Brown, who returned to the team this week after holding out the first six games because of contract issues, hasn't done that since then.
"I can't stay quiet about it," he said. "As far as the protests are concerned I think people are going to feel how they want to feel about it. But this is bigger than just the protests. This is the view of player/owner relationship. This is how you view us. This is, 'you get out of line you're an inmate. We can't let you get out of line. We can't let you speak for yourself. We can't let you have your own beliefs.' That's what it feels like. So it's a bad situation."
Brown said he thought about walking out of the building when he first learned of the comments but decided not to. He added that the situation is not over and that they'll talk about it more as a team.
Receiver DeAndre Hopkins did not attend practice on Friday amid reports that he left because of the comment. O'Brien said he took a personal day.
"I have no idea what's going to happen on Sunday," said Paul Gallant, host at Sports Radio 610 to KHOU 11 reporter Josh Chapin on Friday. "Players are mad and I understand why. On the other end, it's a saying I've heard a bunch before and I'm not exactly sure when Bob was making these comments that he had some malicious intent."
"This is definitely something that's around the league," said Gallant. "This has been a mess for a while and the reason the NFL owners did this meeting is because they're concerned about losing ratings, they're concerned about alienating sponsors. They want to stop all these anthem protests. They want this to go away. There's no way it's going away now."
Some Houston leaders say McNair is out of touch.
"When their employer responds by calling them inmates in a prison he not only shows why protests are needed, he shows that he hasn't even thought about the meaning behind the protests," said Rodney Ellis, Harris County Commissioner over Precinct 1.
"You have to imagine that all of these players are looking at themselves in the mirror and looking at the logo that's on the side of their helmet," Gallant added. "They have to be wondering about the brand that they're apart of and Bob McNair is the face of that brand as the team's owner."