While discussing what NFL owners should do over players’ continued protests during the national anthem earlier this month at league meetings, Houston Texans owner Robert McNair blurted out, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” Whether it was an innocent malapropism or not, McNair’s words drew the immediate ire of Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of operations who was in the room at the time, and the Texans owner and prominent Donald Trump supporter apologized to him before the meeting let out.
McNair apologized again Friday after his quote was revealed by ESPN investigative reporters Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr., but that apparently didn’t satisfy some of his players, who walked out of practice in protest of his comments.
“I think the comments were disrespectful, I think it was ignorant, I think it was embarrassing,” tackle Duane Brown said Friday. “I think it angered a lot of players, including myself. We put our bodies and minds on the line every time we step on the field. To use an analogy of inmates in prison, I would say that’s disrespectful. That’s how I feel about it.”
And on Saturday, McNair met with his players before they departed for Sunday’s game against the Seahawks in an attempt to clear the air:
“I knew they were upset,” McNair told McClain on Saturday. “I wanted to answer their questions. I told them if I had to do over again I wouldn’t use that expression.”
The Texans released another statement from McNair about the matter Saturday, his second in as many days. McNair says his “inmates” remark was about league officials.
According to the Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson, Coach Bill O’Brien, general manager Rick Smith and assistant head coach Romeo Crennel met with the Texans’ players Friday, pushing back the start of practice. The players voiced their frustrations and the meeting went well, Wilson’s sources tell him.
“When it happened, there’s a thousand emotions going through your mind,” Brown said. “Obviously, one of the emotions is to leave the building immediately. We decided to go to work. The situation’s not over. It’s something that we’ll reconvene and talk about again, but we had practice.”
Interviewed by Pro Football Talk on Saturday, Brown shared the following anecdote about McNair from 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president. The owner’s political leanings were made abundantly clear.
“He came to talk to the team,” Brown said. “He was visibly upset about it. He said, ‘I know a lot of y’all are happy right now, but it’s not the outcome that some of us were looking for.’ That was very shocking to me.”
Brown also said that McNair spoke with the team about Donald Sterling, who was forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers after his racist comments were publicly aired.
“The message was more to be careful who you have private conversations with, because things that you think are confidential can spread like wildfire,” Brown said. “In my mind, it would probably have been better if he said ‘don’t be a racist’ instead of ‘be a racist in private and make sure it doesn’t get out.’ ”
Per McClain, wideout DeAndre Hopkins and running back D’Onta Foreman — two of the players who walked out Friday — were both with the team Saturday and will make the trip to Seattle.
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