The ongoing battle between the National Football League and its players has been well documented.
From the issue over whether or not players should stand for the national anthem, to high profile players such as Richard Sherman calling out the league for not caring about player safety by scheduling Thursday night games, the relationship between the NFL, the players and the owners has been strained.
Just this past season, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones threatened to sue the league over the extension of commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract.
To say that the past few years have been less than ideal for the NFL is an understatement.
And now, after Houston Texans owner Bob McNair doubled down on some comments he made this past season, the league may be looking at another crisis that it will have to handle.
Last year, among the controversy over the national anthem protests, McNair said that the league couldn’t, “have the inmates running the prison,” according to Yahoo Sports.
This led to star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins boycotting the team’s facility the Friday before their next game, and left many other players upset.
McNair apologized for his comments, and the whole issue eventually went way.
Until this past Thursday.
McNair backtracked on his apology, opening himself up to even more scrutiny.
“The main thing I regret is apologizing,” McNair told the Wall Street Journal. “I really didn’t have anything to apologize for.”
Now, McNair did say that he was referring to the executives, not the players when he made those comments, but it simply doesn’t make sense.
The owners have their own say it what goes on in the league, and 31 of the 32 (Jones was the only one who did not) approved Roger Goodell’s contract extension this past year.
Considering the fact that McNair was one of the owners who did not agree with the protests, it still seems more likely that his comments at the time were directed at the players, who have very little say as to what goes on in the league.
Either way, this isn’t the first time McNair has put himself in this position.
This offseason, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was said to have allegedly sexually harassed employees and had to eventually sell the team. McNair was one of the first people to come to bat for him.
“Some of the comments could have been made jokingly,” McNair told USA Today. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to offend anybody.”
In addition to these comments, McNair voiced his opinion against the 2008 election of Barack Obama to his team according to former Texans and current Seattle Seahawks tackle Duane Brown.
“He came to talk to the team,” Brown said to ProFootballTalk. “He was visibly upset about it. He said, ‘I know a lot of y’all are happy right now, but it’s not the outcome that some of us were looking for.’ That was very shocking to me.”
Former Texans tight end Owen Daniels confirmed Brown’s statement on ESPN 97.5 in Houston. Daniels felt that the comments at the time were “weird” that he would feel a need to say that to the team, according to Yahoo Sports.
Brown also said that McNair addressed his team after former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was removed from his ownership due to racist comments and behavior.
“The message was more to be careful who you have private conversations with, because things that you think are confidential can spread like wildfire,” Brown said to ProFootballTalk. “In my mind, it would probably have been better if he said, ‘don’t be a racist,’ instead of, ‘be a racist in private and make sure it doesn’t get out.’”
Sterling made comments to his girlfriend about hanging out with African Americans and bringing them to Clippers games.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people,” Sterling said, according to Vox. “I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people. You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.”
The National Basketball Association banned Sterling from the league for life and eventually the other owners voted to force him to sell the team.
While McNair hasn’t been as blatant as Sterling, his actions should have put up some red flags for the NFL.
The NBA was smart enough to make sure that Sterling was immediately removed from its image once he made his comments.
As for the NFL, McNair is coming close to crossing the line. McNair’s referring to players as prison inmates along with the fact that former players have came forward saying that he has exhibited this behavior for years, tension between players and the NFL is growing.
The NFL has been too lenient and too slow to act on issues before, such as the Ray Rice domestic violence case.
Maybe it’s time they take a page out of the NBA’s book on how to handle these issues, because at the end of the day, fans aren’t coming to the NFL for the owners, but for the players. It’s about time the league realizes that.