Bob McNair's "Inmates" Comments Nearly Cause Texans Team Boycott

Bob McNair compared football players to inmates and things just went downhill from there.
Bob McNair compared football players to inmates and things just went downhill from there. Photo by Eric Sauseda

DeAndre Hopkins was a no-show at Houston Texans practice on Friday. He was nearly followed by many other Texans players. Head Coach Bill O’Brien and GM Rick Smith held a meeting with the players. It’s expected all Texans will be on the team plane to Seattle on Saturday, and that they will all suit up on Sunday, but until the plane leaves the ground, and until the game starts, nothing can be taken for granted.

That this happened is because comments made by Texans owner Bob McNair comparing football players to prisoners were made public. The McNair statement was made last week during a meeting of NFL owners debating the best way to handle anthem protests.

“As [Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry] Jones spoke, [Redskins owner Dan] Snyder mumbled out loud,’See, Jones gets it — 96 percent of Americans are for guys standing,’ a claim some [other owners] dismissed as a grand overstatement. [Bob] McNair, a multimillion-dollar Trump campaign contributor, spoke next, echoing many of the same business concerns. “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” McNair was quoted as saying in a ESPN story published Friday morning.

McNair issued a half-hearted apology on Friday, apologizing to those offended by the statement, and added that he didn’t mean for the statement to be taken literally. But the apology appears to be a little too late and appeared to be not enough for Texans players, who, according to multiple reports on Friday, were very displeased and considered walking out on the team.

Hopkins did not show up for practice on Friday. The Texans said Hopkins was taking a personal day. But multiple reports confirm that Hopkins did not show because of McNair’s statements. The stories further state that numerous other players nearly walked out, but were persuaded to stay.
Bob McNair compared football players to inmates and things just went downhill from there. - PHOTO BY ERIC SAUSEDA
Bob McNair compared football players to inmates and things just went downhill from there.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

That McNair, an ardent Donald Trump supporter, would side with Trump as part of this idiotic anthem controversy should not be surprising. That McNair would seemingly misunderstand the reasoning behind the protest is also far from surprising as many people have allowed themselves to become convinced that the protest started last season by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was somehow about disrespecting the troops and the flag instead of about police brutality. Many people have also forgotten (or never knew) that Kaepernick also consulted with a veteran and former NFL player as to whether he was insulting the troops and about the best method to use for his protest.

Texans offensive lineman Duane Brown was not one of those surprised by McNair’s comments: “This is bigger than just the protests,” Brown told reporters. “This is the view of [the] player/owner relationship. This is how you view us. 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. It’s a bad situation.”

This could be foreshadowing of further NFL labor unrest. The collective bargaining agreement between the players union and the league expires after the 2020 season. Players are already unhappy about the punishment system that allows Commissioner Roger Goodell to act as judge, jury and executioner while also handling all appeals.

There are also complaints about owner collusion against players in contract talks. So add in things like Jerry Jones trying to make it mandatory for players to stand for the anthem while getting the okay to cut those who protest, and things could get even uglier, especially if the players feel like McNair’s beliefs about the players are universal among all owners.

What happens from here is still unknown. Does a larger protest arise from players responding to McNair’s stupidity? Do Texans players kneel for the anthem en masse on Sunday? His statement, after all, triggered comments from athletes in other sports and have been compared to statements made by Donald Sterling which resulted in the NBA forcing Sterling to sell the LA Clippers. Maybe Hopkins shows up for the flight to Seattle and has a fantastic game against the Seahawks? Or maybe, like often when the Texans play a better team, the team suffers an embarrassing loss.
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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal