A little more than five months ago, in the middle of the 2017 NFL season, ESPN published a story in which the owner of your Houston Texans, Bob McNair, was quoted as having said this:
“We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”
Given the forum at which the remark was uttered, it was widely assumed that McNair was comparing NFL players to prison inmates. In his apology statement in the wake of ESPN”s story, McNair denied that was his intention, claiming that he was referring to “...the relationship between the league office and the team owners and how they have been making significant strategic decisions affecting our league without adequate input from ownership over the past few years.” According to McNair, the inmates in his analogy were executives in the league office, not NFL players. Nevertheless, the Texans’ owner reiterated his apology to the players in a second statement.
“I am truly sorry to the players for how this has impacted them and the perception that it has created of me which could not be further from the truth.”
There was concern from some who follow the team about whether McNair’s comments would affect how players, both those on the current roster and those could feasibly be in the future, viewed the organization. That worry increased in the aftermath of Duane Brown’s interview with Arian Foster, when Brown (who had been openly critical of what McNair said at the time and was traded to the Seahawks just days after the ESPN story came out, a week after he’d returned from a prolonged holdout) discussed some of his past interactions with McNair and his disappointment with how the organization handled the aftermath of the owner’s inmates comment.
With free agency looming, Jerome Solomon took things a step further, writing that “...it is considered to be understood that as desperate as the Texans are to bring in talent, the pool of potential signees and draftees will not include anyone who has participated in protests or are likely to [do so].” The organization quickly responded to Solomon’s report, calling it “categorically false and without merit.”
Then free agency began and things quieted down. The Texans signed several free agents, headlined by Tyrann Mathieu, and the debate over what McNair meant no longer dominated the headlines.
Until today, when it came roaring back in the aftermath of a story in the Wall Street Journal in which Bob McNair expressed regret for ever apologizing about what he’d said regarding inmates running the prison, doubling down on his earlier insistence that he never compared NFL players to inmates.
“The main thing I regret is apologizing,” McNair says now. He insists the “inmates” he was referring to were not NFL players, but rather league executives who he felt had more control over major decisions than the owners. “I really didn’t have anything to apologize for.”
I just don’t get how McNair could have possibly thought any good would come from publicly stating he regretted apologizing. Why not just let it go? Why give people a chance to blast him anew by revisiting this?
Why effectively call Duane Brown a liar months after the fact by saying, “He has no problem saying things that are not true”? Why try to analogize someone working the drive-thru at McDonald’s with a player protesting? Why purport to conduct an analysis of the applicability of the First Amendment to player protests while also claiming that the league and players “...need to stay out of politics”?
Why continue to distract from the on-field product half a year later?
By choosing that path, McNair virtually ensured other parts of the interview—parts that paint him in a deservedly positive light—will be glossed over if not ignored entirely. For example, I had no idea about this:
In one instance, he paid, without public disclosure, for the funerals of the victims of the 2015 Charleston shooting in which a white gunman killed nine black worshippers at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. McNair said he did that because he was distraught by the incident, and also recently made a $1 million donation for a memorial in the victims’ honor. In all, a spokesman says McNair and his family have made about $500 million in contributions to philanthropic efforts.
“I do what I think is right,” he says. “Sometimes, people disagree with you.”
For better or worse, we live in a twenty-four hour news cycle. Things burst into the public consciousness and disappear just as quickly. That’s both a blessing and a curse. Had McNair not gone back to the well, his remarks from the Fall of 2017 would have largely remained out of sight and therefore out of mind. What McNair said surely wouldn’t have been forgotten, but it also wouldn’t be a hot topic in Houston and beyond in April of 2018.
I understand he’s the guy who writes the checks, which could certainly limit the pool of candidates who could have a frank discussion with him without fear of reprisal, but someone whose opinion McNair values--be it a family member, friend, or another trusted individual—has to impress upon him that nothing can be gained from publicly speaking about these matters anymore. It’s not helping Bob McNair, and it’s not helping the Houston Texans.