Houston Texans players, stung by team owner Bob McNair's remarks while discussing the NFL's national anthem demonstrations, knelt for "The Star-Spangled Banner" before their game in Seattle on Sunday.
Duane Brown and Jadeveon Clowney were among the majority of Texans players who took a knee and linked arms during the pre-game anthem.
Their demonstration came two days after McNair apologized for a comment he made in a meeting with other team owners about the impact of the protests this month, when he was reported by ESPN to have said “we can’t have the inmates running the prison.”
Although McNair met with his players and issued two apologies, all but 10 Texans took a knee — a departure for a team whose players had previously opted to stand for the anthem.
“What he said, a lot of the players felt was wrong,” said cornerback Marcus Williams, who had four tackles and intercepted Russell Wilson late in the fourth quarter of the Texans’ 41-38 loss to the Seahawks.
“But at the end of the day, we’ve got to come out and play the game. What happens off the field, we try to keep it there, and when it’s time to play, we’ve got to come out and make plays.”
Brown said the meeting with McNair went “not too well” but added that the team went into the contest focused on the job.
“It was a lot of emotions running for our team, but just a huge sense of unity we all felt coming out here and playing for each other,” Brown said. “And that was that. Once kickoff started, we tried to block out any other distractions we may have had.”
McNair’s seeming comparison of the league’s players to prison inmates sparked a bitter backlash from players across the league — and even from athletes in other sports.
McNair said in a statement on Saturday he didn’t intend the comparison.
“I was not referring to our players when I made a very regretful comment during the owners meetings last week,” McNair said. “I was referring to the relationship between the league office and team owners and how they have been making significant strategic decisions affecting our league without adequate input from ownership over the past few years.”
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick launched the anthem protests in 2016, refusing to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” to draw attention to racial injustice by law enforcement agencies.
Some players around the league followed his example in kneeling during the anthem, but the demonstrations had largely fizzled out until last month, when US President Donald Trump reignited the issue by decrying any player who kneeled during the anthem as a “son of a bitch” who should be fired.
That sparked a furious backlash among NFL players, who disagreed that the demonstrations are disrespectful to the flag and the US military.
The NFL, aware that many fans are turned off by the protests, has struggled to formulate a response.
But discussion of the matter at the Fall League Meeting yielded no change in the NFL policy that players “should” stand for the anthem.
At the same time, owners and players reached a consensus to support programs which address and combat social inequality. DM
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