At an NFL owners meeting last week, Houston Texans owner Robert McNair reportedly said of the ongoing national anthem protests by NFL players, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” On Sunday, McNair’s team responded.
More than 30 members of the Houston Texans organization knelt or remained seated during the pre-game national anthem. There had been rumblings of a major protest in the run-up to Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks, and — unsurprisingly — it involved taking a knee.
Seven Seahawks players also remained seated during the anthem, in their continued support for Colin Kaepernick’s symbolic, much talked about decision to kneel throughout the 2016 season. His intent — and the intent of players who have taken up the same cause — was and is to shine a brighter light on systemic racial inequality and police brutality in the United States.
For the Texans on Sunday, there was another, more personal layer to the gesture: McNair’s ill-conceived comment, which — whether or not it was intentional — had the effect of pouring proverbial gasoline on an already tense issue.
Sunday’s display by Texans players was the first time that anyone from the team has taken a knee, barring league-wide displays of unity in Week 3.
The #TakeAKnee protest has become a controversial flashpoint for the NFL this season — ironically, because of Donald Trump’s willful disregard of the protest’s intent, and his inflammatory words directed at the league and its players.
Trump’s framing of the protest as an intentional show of disrespect toward flag and country has turned many of the NFL’s fans against the league. The players merely want to have their concerns heard, and — as McNair’s comment illustrates — many increasingly feel like the team owners aren’t doing enough to defend them.
It’s nuts that we have to report on this, but c’est la 2017: As of this writing, Trump hasn’t yet responded to Sunday’s protest. McNair issued two public apologies after his comment surfaced in an ESPN story.
He also spoke to players on Saturday, a day after the story broke and multiple players skipped practice. That discussion reportedly saw McNair clarifying his comment, trying to reframe it as a reference to the relationship between the league office and each team’s owners.
Clearly, it did not go over well.