Bob McNair's Defense of Jerry Richardson Pretty Hard to Defend

Bob McNair made yet another verbal gaffe at the NFL owners' meetings over the weekend.
Bob McNair made yet another verbal gaffe at the NFL owners' meetings over the weekend. Photo by Eric Sauseda
For as mild mannered and relatively soft spoken as Texans owner Bob McNair tends to be, when he does say something, it often makes headlines. Back in October at an owner meeting, he voiced his concerns over players protesting during the National Anthem saying, "We can't have inmates running the prison." Not only was it met with harsh criticism around the league from players and even other owners, but it essentially cost them the services of their All-Pro offensive tackle, Duane Brown, who sat out and was ultimately traded to the Seattle Seahawks.

Over the weekend at another owner meeting (maybe he should avoid those in the future?), McNair decided to weigh in on the anthem protests again, this time going so far as to say political AND religious demonstrations have no place on the football field. We assume that would include players huddling together before and after games to say prayers, something commonly seen at most NFL games.

But more disturbing were comments about his friend and current (though soon-to-be former) Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. Richardson is selling his team amid reports of settlements paid to employees over sexual harassment claims and at least one incident where he allegedly used a racial slur to describe an African American scout for the team. The allegations are detailed in an extensive story from Sports Illustrated.

Richardson is also a close friend of McNair and was one of McNair's key backers when he landed the Texans. In response to questions about Richardson from reporters, McNair said, “Some of the comments could have been made jokingly. I’m sure he didn’t mean to offend anybody.” Additionally, he said he hopes it "turns out that he's innocent."

McNair went so far as to say: "I understand what he's saying. Sometimes people choose to try to make something go away rather than fighting it. I think his regret is he didn't fight some of these things."

Setting aside for the moment the political debate over anthem protestations, what McNair said about Richardson is remarkable. The incredibly damning report from SI includes stories from multiple Panther employees regarding Richardson's behavior, which included having women turn around on "Jeans Day" so he could look at and remark on how their butts looked in their jeans (ew). One employee was quoted as saying people considered it a "creepy-old-man thing." McNair's response was basically, "Aw shucks, y'all, he didn't mean it."

At best, his comments are tone deaf and, at worst, dismissive of someone who harassed female employees and called another a racial slur. Friend or not, you have to know better than to defend someone in that moment. The most you should say is "I hope what is being reported is not true, because that kind of behavior cannot be tolerated in our league or anywhere." And if he can't muster any condemnation, perhaps a "no comment" would suffice.

The truth is, as bad as the sexual misconduct allegations, the racial slur is the one that will come back to haunt McNair the most considering his previous "inmates running the asylum" gaffe and the fact that most of his players are African American. It seems particularly ironic that both McNair and Richardson have high profile black quarterbacks as well.

It is unlikely any of the players who want to remain in Houston will speak out in opposition to his comments, at least publicly, but one of them appeared to subtweet about the story on Sunday.

When Deandre Hopkins, one of your best players and a really good guy off the field, basically says, "I can't say anything if I want to avoid a suspension," you know it ain't good.

And look, whatever your feelings about national anthem protests or "creepy-old-man" things, if you are a football fan, this has to concern you. Owners are at their best when they are opening their wallets to pay for players or give money to charity, and when they make critical decisions when it comes to hiring and firing. They are a lot like offensive linemen: You don't hear anything about them until they do something wrong. The last thing any sports fan wants is an owner who either meddles incessantly in the team's business on the field (i.e. Jerry Jones) or says stupid things off it.

We now have multiple instances in the last six months McNair has decided to open his mouth and put his undoubtedly very expensive shoe in it. Whatever we feel about his political beliefs, we all have to admit, at the moment, he is making the Texans a far less desirable place to play football, and that's bad for all of us.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke