‘We Can’t Have the Inmates Running the Prison’; Houston Texans Owner Calls NFL Players Inmates

Oct 24, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Houston Texans owner Bob McNair before the game against the Houston Texans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Since the NFL protests began there have been many comparisons between the “Million-Dollar Slaves” and the “volunteers” of yesteryear. The gridiron has been referred to as the new plantation and team owners have earned the name, slavemaster or “massa” for short.

Well Houston Texans owner Bob McNair has decided to move the chains another yard by comparing the recent dissent in the NFL with running a prison.

“We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” said McNair, a multimillion-dollar Trump campaign contributor, according to an ESPN report about the conference.

The analogy pissed off former NFL player and current executive Troy Vincent who lashed out at McNair. Vincent also went in on Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys’ prison warden who is staunchly opposed to the kneeling of NFL players. All the comments and arguments opposing the kneeling have been filled with “old-time” rhetoric reminiscent of the days when America was great.

After word spread of McNair’s views on the protest and NFL players roles, harsh criticisms were lobbed at the Texans owner prompting him to issue an apology. According to ESPN, McNair “felt horrible and that his words weren’t meant to be taken literally, which Vincent appreciated.”

On Friday morning, the Texans released a statement from McNair:

“I regret that I used that expression. I never meant to offend anyone and I was not referring to our players,” he said. “I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally. I would never characterize our players or our league that way and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”

If McNair would never characterize the league players as inmates than why did he? The comparison is fairly easy when prison populations are predominantly Black as is the league. Prison wardens are predominantly non-Black as are the owners of the NFL teams. Wardens count on the guards to keep the inmates in line just like team owners count on their coaches to keep players towing the line.

In retrospect, McNair’s analogy isn’t that far off. As a wealthy white owner of an NFL team, McNair is not able to see past the perch of his skybox. Other than the fact that the players live in the home that McNair built, he has no further intrinsic connections with his “inmates”. Many share his opinions and perspective and see nothing wrong with seeing the players as inmates. As you are reading this, commenters are expressing their disappointment in the apology… not because of some perceived insincerity, but because he didn’t stand by his initial statement.

All that aside, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for NFL players to deny how their owners view them. As some players continue to lie to themselves and rationalize away the hate, more and more are starting to make a stand. For how long will they be able to stand remains to be seen.

Was McNair wrong for making that statement? Do you believe his apology? What do you think?

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