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  • Texans owner Bob McNair pissed a lot of people off, but today's society is eager to be angry at the latest sound bite. We should dive further into actually seeing what he meant rather than instantly crushing him.
By Michael Rosenberg
October 27, 2017

Sure, Bob McNair says he wants to own an NFL team, but how do we know for sure? He seems more concerned with social issues.

McNair, the Texans’ owner, just stepped into a major controversy and apparently infuriated players across the NFL. By now, you’ve seen the quote, in ESPN’s story about NFL owners and players trying to resolve their national-anthem dispute:

“We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

Wait, wait. Did he just call NFL players inmates?

NFL
Texans Owner Apologizes After Comparing NFL Protests to 'Inmates Running the Prison'

Players sure seem to think so. Texans star receiver DeAndre Hopkins skipped practice, and ESPN reported he did so out of anger at McNair. The threat of a revolt was real enough that Texans coach Bill O’Brien actually felt the need to say his team would show up for its game in Seattle Sunday. McNair issued an apology, but Seahawks star corner Richard Sherman tweeted in response: “Don’t apologize! You meant what you said. Showing true colors allows (people) to see you for who you are.” Sherman’s teammate Bobby Wagner tweeted: “People sayin’ how they really feel.”

As with most of these stories, it’s not that simple. The players’ anger is understandable. Owners have treated them less than respectfully for years. The NFL has not respected the concept of due process in player discipline. I think NBA players generally feel like they have power and owners respect them; NFL players don’t. There is an enormous chasm there.

And if players think owners haven’t supported them lately, it’s because owners haven’t supported them lately. Many players see anthem protests as a call for social justice. Owners see it as a business concern.

Colin Kaepernick believes he has been blackballed for being the first to kneel, and whether he wins his collusion lawsuit or not, understand: A lot of players agree with him. There is a reason for that: They understand football. You cannot watch the quarterbacks taking Sunday snaps and fairly argue they are all better than Kaepernick. There is just no way.

Yet, Bob McNair’s comments have been twisted and set on fire. He did not say NFL players are prisoners. I know people are acting like he said that, but that’s clearly not what he meant. He was trying to say players should not run the league. Every owner agrees with him on that.

Was it a bad choice of words? That’s an understatement. It was an awful choice of words.  But I believe it was an unintentionally awful choice, in the middle of a heated meeting. McNair reached for an idiom and chose the wrong one.

NFL
Report: DeAndre Hopkins Skipped Practice Over Owner’s Comments, Other Players Wanted to Leave

I didn’t think McNair’s comments were the most offensive comment by an owner in that ESPN story. Washington owner Daniel Snyder, referring to the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, is quoted as saying: “See, Jones gets it – 96 percent of Americans are for guys standing.”

Ninety-six percent. Think about that. That is an insanely offensive thing to say. It means Snyder is so detached from the experience of African Americans that he is totally unaware of how most of them feel. Not only that, he is even unaware of how many non-African Americans feel the same way. This is every bit as dumb as saying 96 percent of Americans wish Hillary Clinton were president.

So why isn’t Snyder getting nearly as much grief as McNair? We live in a sound-bite-and-tweet society, and people are so angry that most of the time, we aren’t really trying to listen to each other. We’re just looking for something to keep us pissed off.

McNair provided it. If you support the players, then hearing an owner compare them to inmates will piss you off. Who cares what he actually meant? He’s on the other side!

Look: I understand the anger and the frustration. And while we’re at it: I understand have great respect for the reasons for the protests. I also understand why NFL players don’t trust owners.

But this does not mean Bob McNair views his players as prisoners. You can call him wrong, you can say he’s insensitive to the players’ cause, however that still doesn’t mean he views his players as prisoners. If we want any chance at an honest discussion, let’s try to understand what people mean, not just crush them for how they say it.

That’s how I feel. I respect that some people will disagree. I just hope they read past the headline.

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