SEATTLE, Washington - More than 30 members of the Houston Texans took a knee and several sat during the anthem before Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks in protest of owner Bob McNair's comment that "we can't have the inmates running the prison."
Seven Seahawks players – five in uniform and two inactive players – sat during the anthem, continuing the protest Michael Bennett started earlier this year.
But the Texans’ demonstration though was most notable, given the intense negative reaction from players in Houston and around the league on Friday after McNair’s “inmates” comment was reported in an ESPN story that detailed what happened during league meetings in New York City last week. McNair’s quote came during an owners-only session to discuss the protest issue.
Word of a possible protest made the rounds on Twitter after a tweet from ESPN's Adam Schefter ahead of the game on Sunday. It was unclear how the Texans were going to protest prior to game time.
Texans plan group protest; options include kneeling, peeling Texans decal off helmet, raising fists, staying in locker room during anthem.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 29, 2017
ESPN reported that players considered remaining in the locker room or even taking the Texans decal off their helmets, though they did neither.
As the anthem began, Texans players looked around at each other and then the majority knelt in unison. Many players held hands. Several of the players who chose to stand put a hand on a teammate’s shoulder.
It is the first time this year that any Texans players have demonstrated during the anthem, beyond when the team stood with linked arms during Week 3.
Earlier this week, an explosive ESPN.com story broke the news that McNair had said, "We can't have the inmates running the prison," which was at the time assumed to be a reference to NFL players' protests of police brutality and racism during the national anthem.
The comment was not well-received in the room (it was said during an owners meeting), and McNair apologized to NFL executive and former NFL player Troy Vincent after the meeting -- saying he felt horrible and this his words weren't to be taken literally.
After the story broke, McNair issued another apology through the Texans' PR staff, claiming the statement was not made in reference to the players.
Nevertheless, Texans players were offended enough by the statement that they reportedly wanted to walk out of practice, and it took a group meeting with coach Bill O'Brien and general manager Rick Smith to get most of them to stay.
McNair met with the players on Saturday, then released another statement in which he claimed the "inmates" comment was a reference to the league office, not the players. "As I said [Friday], I was not referring to our players when I made a very regretful comment during the owners meeting last week," the statement read. "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."
McNair's comments have not been well-received in any part of NFL circles, with players from all around the league ripping him during the latter part of this week. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman even stated that he thinks Texans players would probably have boycotted this week's game, if only their contracts were guaranteed.
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