By Erick Johnson
During an intense meeting at the NFL headquarters in New York, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” according to a new play-by-play ESPN report that detailed the heated closed-doors discussions between top executives and players who expressed their concerns to protest during the national anthems at football games.
McNair’s comments are being viewed as an insult to many Black players who have made millions of dollars for his football franchise and the NFL. McNair is a multimillion-dollar campaign contributor to Trump, according to the report.
NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent, who was at the meeting, reportedly was offended by McNair’s characterization of the players as “inmates.” Vincent said that in all his years of playing in the NFL — during which, he said, he had been called every name in the book, including the N-word — he never felt like an “inmate.”
According to the report, McNair later pulled Vincent aside and apologized, saying that he felt “horrible” and that his words weren’t meant to be taken literally, which Vincent appreciated.
On Friday, October 27, McNair issued a public apology.
“I regret that I used that expression,” McNair said in a statement. “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.”
The report said McNair’s statements stunned NFL executives, some of whom expressed concerns that the protests were hurting the NFL’s popularity. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and nine NFL owners attended the meeting and the players were represented by retired wide receiver Anquan Boldin and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, according to the ESPN report. San Francisco safety Eric Reid attended despite demands that he not come to the player-owners meeting after kneeling during the national anthem at a recent game. New York Jets linebacker Demario Davis also was at the meeting.
Goodell did not invite Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to the owner-player meeting because of threats to bench his players if they did not stand during the national. Citing anonymous sources, the report said Goodell “wanted to prevent the players-owners meeting from devolving into an argument about whether a player should be benched if he kneels — an argument that was more likely to break out if Jones attended.”
Executives considered inviting unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick to the meeting, but those plans were scrap
The report said Jones attended a separate meeting where he expressed his anger at how the protest is hurting NFL. A recent Morning Consult poll revealed that the NFL’s appeal has dropped to 11 percent from a high of 56 percent in May. Jones was furious that local TV ratings in Dallas were down, especially a 19 percent drop for this year’s game against Green Bay, compared with last year’s. The owners were also concerned about President Donald Trump, who hasn’t toned down his criticism of the protests, saying they disrespect the American flag and the soldiers who served their country. Players disagree, saying they’re protesting inequality suffered by Blacks and minorities by police officers patrolling America’s neighborhoods.
However, the report said the players in the meeting said they felt the owners “were being duplicitous; they were empathetic to their concerns behind closed doors but not publicly,” according to the report.
The report said Davis, the New York Jets linebacker stood up in the center of the room and told the owners: “I’m going to break it down for you guys. You guys aren’t supporting us, and until you do, there’s going to be an issue.” The report said Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank later told Davis that he’d “missed his calling” as a great public speaker.
The report also said Buffalo Bills co-owner Terry Pegula was moved by Anquan Boldin’s story about his cousin being shot and killed by a police officer. Pegula reportedly complimented him on how impressive he was but kept calling him “Antwan.” Then Pegula reportedly suggested that Boldin would be the perfect NFL spokesman on social issues not only because he had walked away from the game to pursue causes but because, the owner said, it couldn’t be a “white owner but needs to be someone who’s Black.”
The report said Goodell and NFL executives did not implement a league-wide mandate against protests during the meeting. The report said executives were more concerned about establishing a dialogue and reaching a compromise, which also did not happen.
Former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in 2014 became the outcast in basketball after his racist comments. Now, McNair may be his counterpart in football.