Texans owner reportedly said of protests: 'Can’t have the inmates running the prison'
Some owners want to make players stand for the anthem while others support players' right to protest
"Respecting the flag" was important optically but so too was addressing players' concerns about social inequality, which was the reason Colin Kaepernick protested during the anthem for the first time in August 2016.
For two days after the 24 owners and players convened, all the NFL owners met to discuss, among other things, what to do about sagging ratings, which was directly related to fans' anger at the anthem protests.
On Day 2 of the meetings, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told his colleagues that they needed to seriously consider the impact the anthem issue was having on the league's bottom line, and to some in the room Jones was building towards an mandate that would require players to stand during the anthem, similar to NBA's rule.
According to Wickersham and Van Natta, as Jones made his case, Redskins owner Dan Snyder said, "See, Jones gets it -- 96 percent of Americans are for guys standing," a remark some dismissed as an overstatement. Texans owner and Trump supporter Bob McNair spoke next, and he had many of the same concerns as Jones.
"We can't have the inmates running the prison," McNair reportedly said, referring to the players.
More from Wickersham and Van Natta:
That statement stunned some in the room. Then Kraft, who is close friends with Trump, politely rebuked the hardliners, saying that he supported the league's marketing proposal and predicted the issue would work itself out over time. This argument seemed to find a receptive audience in the room. An unofficial count had only nine owners in favor of a mandate, though the reasons for the opposition varied: Some owners had tired of Jones always commandeering such meetings; some were jealous of his power and eager to see him go down; some saw the players-must-stand mandate as bad policy to invoke in the middle of the season; some owners were angry with Jones' hard-line public stance on kneeling, feeling that it had backed them all into a corner.
"The majority of owners understand this is important to the players and want to be supportive, even if they don't exactly know how to be supportive," an owner said.
Even one major sponsor had threatened to pull out if the NFL forced players to stand for the anthem.
Forty-niners owner Jed York and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie spoke next; York emphasized that each market was different while Lurie supported his players' right to kneel.
After the owners had spoken, NFL executive and former NFL player Troy Vincent stood up. He was offended by McNair's "inmates" comments. And according to Wickersham and Van Natta, "Vincent said that in all his years of playing in the NFL -- during which, he said, he had been called every name in the book, including the N-word -- he never felt like an 'inmate.'"
Later, McNair pulled Vincent aside to apologize -- saying he felt horrible and this his words weren't to be taken literally. Vincent reportedly appreciated McNair's apology. And on Friday, hours after the story was published, McNair issued an apology through the Texans.
While some owners left the meeting wondering who had won this much was clear. President Trump's constant attacks had brought everyone together -- or in the words of a league executive -- or at least agree to keep talking.
The next owners-players meeting is scheduled for Oct. 31.
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