“My comments at the event last May included an inappropriate choice of words,” McNair, the son of Texans owner Janice McNair, said in a statement first published by Bally Sports and provided by the team to The Washington Post. “I immediately apologized to people who approached me then and I apologize again now. I know how important it is to choose my words carefully. I would never want to offend anyone.”
Describing the coronavirus as the “China virus,” as President Donald Trump occasionally did while in office, is viewed by some as a slur and has contributed to an increased climate of anti-Asian sentiment in parts of the country. The FBI reported Monday that the number of hate crimes in the United States targeting Asians rose sharply to 279 in 2020, as compared with 161 the year before.
McNair’s reported apology comes after the NFL was rocked by the emergence of racist, misogynistic and homophobic language used by Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden in emails before he had the job. When Gruden stepped down as coach this month, he said in a statement, “I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”
McNair, 60, assumed day-to-day control of the Texans in 2018, shortly before Bob McNair, his father and the franchise’s co-founder, died of cancer. During the prior year, Bob McNair received backlash from within his team and elsewhere after he said of player protests against racism and police brutality, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”
“I regret that I used that expression,” Bob McNair said in a subsequent statement. “I never meant to offend anyone and I was not referring to our players.”
The “inmates” comment elicited on-the-record criticism from Texans offensive tackle Duane Brown and prompted star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and some teammates to walk out of a practice. A few days later, Brown, a three-time Pro Bowl selection at the time, was traded to the Seattle Seahawks. Hopkins was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in March 2020 in a deal that stunned the league and left many observers feeling that Houston did not get enough in return for one of the NFL’s best pass-catchers.
Houston has posted progressively worse records since 2018, including a mark of 4-12 in 2020, and the team is off to a 1-6 start this season. The Texans have been playing without quarterback Deshaun Watson, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who asked to be traded in January and then became the subject of 22 lawsuits from women who alleged he harassed and assaulted them during massages. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that the league does not have sufficient information to decide whether to place Watson on paid administrative leave, but the Texans have elected to keep him sidelined.
Tuesday brought more rumors of a possible Watson trade before the league’s Nov. 2 deadline, in addition to headlines generated by the news of McNair’s comments and apology.