Texans owner makes it clear the NFL's player protest issue still isn't settled

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist
A Seahawks fan holds a sign referencing a comment made by Houston Texans owner Bob McNair before the game between the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on October 29, 2017. (Getty)

ORLANDO — Fresh off his deposition earlier this month in quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s collusion complaint against the league, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair is once again talking the NFL into a tough spot while attending the league’s meetings.

Following a closed session of league meetings in New York last October – in which McNair made comments about “inmates running the prison” that became a controversial flashpoint for protesting NFL players – McNair once again raised eyebrow’s at the league’s Orlando meetings Sunday. This time it was in a public setting, speaking to reporters in defense of Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and, once again, against the player protests that have roiled the league.

“Our playing field is not the place for political statements [and] not the place for religious statements,” McNair told reporters of player protests, this time adding in the new wrinkle of “religious statements.” “It’s the place for football. … Fans are our customers. You can replace the owners and the league will survive. You can replace the players, although the game won’t be good. You can’t replace the fans. If you don’t have fans, you’re dead.

“I think we all need to respect our flag and respect our country,” McNair added. “I think we’ll figure out a way to make sure that we do that. We’ll have discussions about it.

As for Richardson, who is currently being investigated by the league for settling complaints of allegedly making improper sexual and racial comments in the workplace, McNair suggested the Panthers owner may have been “joking” or “misunderstood.”

Texans owner Bob McNair has been outspoken against players protesting during the national anthem. (Getty)

“I hope this thing turns out that he’s innocent,” McNair said of Richardson. “They alleged. I don’t know. Some of the comments he might have made – could have been made jokingly and misunderstood. I’m sure he didn’t mean to offend anybody.”

Richardson is being investigated by the league after a Sports Illustrated report detailed multiple settlements with former employees who alleged that he had made abusive workplace statements.

It’s an investigation the league has sparsely commented on since the December report’s release, but McNair made revealing comments Sunday, stating that Richardson’s defense to other owners was that he was merely settling the complaints as a matter of fiscal strategy.

“Sometimes people choose to try to make something go away rather than fighting it,” McNair said of Richardson. “I think his regret is he didn’t fight some of these things. … We get confronted with it, too, where people will allege something, get a lawyer, and come out and threaten you. Your legal counsel and your insurance people say, ‘It’s going to cost you X millions of dollars to defend this. And if we can settle it for this…’ ‘[But you ask] well, wait a minute. We’re not guilty. Why would we do that?’ That’s the question. Sometimes just to get rid of it, if you can get rid of it, do it.”

If anything, McNair’s comments foreshadow what lies ahead at these meetings. Aside from rules tweaks, the gathering will be dominated by some of the same controversies that have dogged the league for more than a year now. If not more questions about a #MeToo movement that now squarely includes an NFL owner, then most certainly a protest debate that seems anything but settled.

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