NFL in Chaos After Owner Bob McNair Likens Players to ‘Inmates’

This morning ESPN published a reporting tour de force on the NFL’s special meeting with players last week, written by Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta

The entire piece is essential reading as it delves into the nuanced and often conflicting worlds of business, morality and culture clashes. It is chockfull of disturbing nuggets like NFL executive Troy Vincent calling 49ers GM John Lynch prior to the owners-players meeting to assert that if LB Eric Reid knelt again, he shouldn’t “bother to show up.”

But it is one line from Texans owner Robert McNair that has sent his organization and the entire league into an uproar. According to the piece, the day after the special meeting owners met to discuss some marketing proposals that could allow the two sides to coalesce on activism. When it was McNair’s turn in an open forum discussion, he shared his business-driven concern in a deeply-disturbing, manner: “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

Texans coach Bill O’Brien reportedly shared McNair’s comments with his players before practice. Unsurprisingly, the response pulsated with disgust. WR DeAndre Hopkins took a personal day as a show of revolt. Arguably the team’s best player taking action against his team’s owner is rather significant. LT Duane Brown said more players considered walking out and shared his own reaction to his owner’s statement:

McNair’s comments reverberated across the league and beyond. A plethora of players spoke out, even after the maligned owner issued an apology:

NFL players have been ringing the bell of inequality for ages. It has shown up in more nuanced ways like the lack of guaranteed contracts afforded to players in other sports, severe dress codes and absence of resources post-playing career. But McNair threw down the gauntlet. Owners are the wardens. Players are the prisoners.

We should probably forget the smidgen of potential progress on societal equality that came out of the owners-players meetings last week. Where are the statements from Roger Goodell or other owners condemning McNair’s words? Even in the aftermath of this supposedly unifying meeting, Goodell made clear that he wants players standing for the anthem.

McNair, a friend of and donor to Donald Trump, has made his feelings known. There’s no turning back. McNair had no qualms calling players ‘inmates’ in a room of owners, some of which luckily hold a different viewpoint. Imagine what he calls them in a smaller setting of solely like-minded 70-something billionaires like his buddy Jerry Jones.

McNair is focused on his business first, second, third and infinity. As a businessman, this makes sense on the surface. But to not see the value in players who are the vessels to his monstrous revenue checks is really pathetic and just plain wrong. To him, players are cattle or inmates or whatever analogy because so many exist in the disparity that is a caste system.

Sunday will be another tension-filled day in the NFL, again for the wrong reasons. When more of the league’s ‘inmates’ protest societal inequality this week, McNair can especially thank himself.