HOUSTON — At least Bob McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans football team now forced to apologize for referring to his players as “inmates” looking to run the prison, didn’t compare those players to farmhands. Or worse. Because that might really have gotten McNair into trouble with National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell.
According to reporting done by Seth Wickersham for ESPN, McNair made his chowderheaded comment when owners and players got together in New York recently to discuss what the NFL should do, going forward, about anthem protests; about the players in the league still choosing to take a knee before they go out and play the games that make guys like McNair, members of a club that mostly includes rich white guys like himself, a lot richer than they already are.
Now that McNair’s players, and the rest of us, find out what he said, here is the apology he offers, the kind you so often hear from athletes in trouble, when they once again say that if they offended anybody, they’re sorry:
“I regret that I used that expression. I never meant to offend anyone and I was not referring to our players. I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally. I would never characterize our players or our league that way and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”
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McNair doesn’t apologize because of real remorse. He apologizes because he was caught. He reacts to the reaction. In the process, he really only makes things worse for himself. “I was not referring to players,” he says. Then to whom was this guy referring, the Texans’ cheerleaders?
And here, by the way, is what one of McNair’s players, tackle Duane Brown, had to say about his owner:
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“I can’t say I’m surprised… I’m sure there are a lot of owners that feel that way….I think it was ignorant. I think it was embarrassing. I think it angered a lot of players, including myself. We put our bodies and minds on the line every time we step on that field, and to use an analogy of inmates in prison, that’s disrespectful. That’s how I feel about it.”
Several members of the Texans left practice after learning of their owner’s remarks before returning to work. Now it will be interesting to see if McNair’s apology, such as it was, will have any traction with them. It will be just as interesting to see what Goodell has to say about this. He has historically taken great pride in being a tough guy with players in his league who step out of line. Now let’s see what he says about an owner who talks about inmates running the prison and then acts as if that were some colorful figure of speech not meant to be taken seriously.
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This is a league, of course, where Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback who once had a pass in the air that would have won the Super Bowl for the 49ers, cannot get a job because he is the one who took the first knee during the anthem. Kaepernick, by the way, not yet 30, is a quarterback who once produced 444 yards in total offense, passing and running, against the Green Bay Packers in a postseason game, and now can’t even get a phone call from the Packers after their star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, breaks his collarbone.
But the owners got together with the players in New York and wanted us to believe that this was some sort of exercise about respect for players’ social and political beliefs. No it was not, not really, for all the high-minded rhetoric we heard when these meetings were over. This was about the owners, who clearly believe that players taking a knee during the anthem is bad for business, looking for some way, any way, to get them to stand up. This was about the most sincere shared belief for the men and the two women who own NFL franchises: Please don’t cost us money, or damage our brand.
Jerry Jones, another enlightened football owner from the state of Texas, came out not long ago and said he was going to by-God bench any member of his team, the Cowboys, who took a knee during the playing of this country’s anthem. You immediately wondered, and continue to wonder, what Jones would do if one of his star players, Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott or Dez Bryant, decided to take knees one Sunday, in formation.
In the end, all of this plays into the great lie that hovers over the whole national controversy about anthem debates, from the president of the United States on down (or up, depending on your point of view): That dissent in this country is unpatriotic, when it is as American as the flag in which owners now try to wrap themselves.
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The prisoner in this case is Bob McNair. A prisoner of closed-mindedness, and arrogance. You get fined for cheap shots in his sport. Now we see what kind of penalty there is for this kind of cheap shot from the owner of the Houston Texans.
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