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A Majority of Texans Players Knelt During the National Anthem in Response to Bob McNair’s “Inmates” Comment

The owner’s comments sparked the latest chapter in the NFL’s ongoing protest saga

NFL: Houston Texans at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports

The majority of Houston Texans players kneeled during the national anthem on Sunday, two days after reports surfaced that Texans owner Bob McNair made a comment seemingly comparing NFL players to “inmates” earlier this month.

At an owners meeting October 18 McNair said “We can't have the inmates running the prison,” in reference to quelling pregame player protests, according to ESPN. The comments sparked an immediate backlash among Houston players after coming to light on Friday. Star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and backup running back D’Onta Foreman left Houston’s facility early, and many players discussed a mass exodus before practice, but ultimately decided against it. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, general manager Rick Smith, and assistant head coach Romeo Crennel led a 90-minute meeting where players could speak about the issue on Friday. “It’s been addressed,” O’Brien said of the situation. “I’m 100 percent with these players.”

Texans tackle Duane Brown, who just returned from a holdout last week, said that McNair’s words “sickened” him but that he “was not surprised.”

McNair apologized for his comments on Friday and again on Saturday. The Texans owner said that his words had been taken out of context and that he was referring to the relationship between owners and executives in the league office, not between ownership and players, but another owner present at the meeting cast doubt on that explanation, according to ESPN. McNair’s apology reportedly did not go over well with players.

A group of players including Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and retired wideout Anquan Boldin reportedly invited McNair, commissioner Roger Goodell, and free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick to attend a meeting to address some of the players’ concerns, but that meeting has been postponed to a later date and it is unknown if any of the three will attend.

NFL bosses have struggled to address player protests, which began with Kaepernick sitting during the national anthem last year and spread after Donald Trump said in September that any “son of a bitch” who kneels during the anthem should be fired. Now Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is leading the charge to delay Goodell’s contract extension in part because of how Goodell has handled the situation, NFL sources told ESPN.

Ironically, McNair’s words came during a meeting where owners wanted to find a way to quell pregame protests. Instead, McNair has invited skepticism on whether owners are serious about tackling social justice issues, and stoked the flames of the very story he and the NFL are trying to quash.