Houston Texans owner Bob McNair made news last fall for having said of NFL players who protested racial injustice during the national anthem, "We can't have the inmates running the prison." More recently, a report claimed that, under the direction of McNair, the Texans are intent on avoiding any free agent players who have staged such demonstrations.
Houston Chronicle columnist Jerome Solomon reported Saturday that he "spoke with two NFL agents this week who said word is the Texans aren't interested in any players who participated in pregame kneel-downs in protest of police brutality."
"There is no directive within the organization, but 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," Solomon continued. He added that while the Texans "are not a racist organization," the team's owner has frequently been "racially tone deaf," and there are "many who believe if McNair could field a team with all-white, all-conforming all-pro talent, he would."
The Texans did not immediately respond to a request from The Washington Post for comment. With the NFL's free agency period opening next week, the Chronicle's report could potentially damage the team's reputation even among players who did not stage protests but who sympathize with those who did.
McNair's comment, reportedly made at an October NFL owners' meeting at which he was among those advocating for a new league mandate that players stand during the anthem, was said to have "stunned some in the room." However, that was nothing compared to the reaction it received once it became public.
McNair, 80, met with his players and apologized for the "inmates" remark, but his attempt to clear the air was unsuccessful and may even have backfired. At a Texans practice two days before a Week 8 game at Seattle, several players walked out, reportedly including star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and players on other teams took to social media to express their disapproval of McNair.
During that game, many Houston players took a knee and linked arms for the national anthem, after staging almost no such demonstrations before then. After a sack of Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who spent the season sitting on the bench during the anthem, celebrated by taking a knee at midfield.
At the time, it wasn't lost on many players that McNair was a major supporter of President Trump. Longtime former Texans left tackle Duane Brown, who raised his fist during the anthem in September 2016 and who was traded to the Seahawks shortly after the game at Seattle, noted that McNair addressed the team in 2008 and expressed his unhappiness at the electoral victory of Barack Obama.
Trump has been sharply critical of the NFL's protests, and his comments at a rally in Alabama before Week 3, in which he advocated that teams fire "son of a b--" players who declined to stand during the anthem, sparked large demonstrations by players before games across the league. Should the Texans be intent on taking those protests into account, they may have a very tough time singling out acceptable targets in free agency.
Or, as Solomon put it, "If the Texans are determined to field a team without players who are concerned about their community enough to occasionally be outspoken, or to perhaps participate in a silent protest, they are risking turning away players who could help them win a Super Bowl. That would be a mistake."