On Friday morning, ESPN the Magazine published a new report from Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham offering in-depth insider information on last week’s meetings in which NFL owners, players and union leaders discussed player protests of police brutality and systemic inequality during the national anthem, ongoing criticism of the league and its players from President Donald Trump, and reports of declining ratings and discontent among the NFL’s base of advertisers and sponsors. The story immediately raised eyebrows across the sporting world, with one section featuring comments made by Houston Texans owner Bob McNair quickly garnering lots of attention:
As [Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry] Jones spoke, [Washington Redskins owner Daniel] Snyder mumbled out loud, “See, Jones gets it — 96 percent of Americans are for guys standing [for the national anthem],” a claim some dismissed as a grand overstatement. McNair, a multimillion-dollar Trump campaign contributor, spoke next, echoing many of the same business concerns. “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” McNair said. […]
After the owners finished, [former NFL player and current NFL executive] Troy Vincent stood up. He was offended by McNair’s characterization of the players as “inmates.” 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.”
According to Wickersham and Van Natta, McNair “later pulled Vincent aside and apologized, saying that he felt horrible and that his words weren’t meant to be taken literally, which Vincent appreciated.” McNair also issued a statement through the Texans on Friday, saying he regretted using “that expression,” claiming that he “used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally,” and that he “would never characterize our players or our league that way.”
Evidently, many players on the Texans, including star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, didn’t find that to be a sufficient apology or explanation from the man who owns their team. Neither did Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, who took to Instagram to share some thoughts on the matter, comparing McNair’s comments to those that resulted in former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling being banned from the NBA:
Wow! This sure does sound very Donald Sterling-esque. But I'm sure the fans pay to see him play and he's putting himself at risk of CTE by going out there every Sunday and giving 110%! Inmates? For starters, let's stop using the word owner and maybe use the word Chairman. To be owned by someone just sets a bad precedent to start. It sets the wrong tone. It gives one the wrong mindset. Webster states that an inmate is a person confined to an institution such as a prison or hospital. Not sure these tax paying men should be referred to as inmates- but what do I know?
A post shared by Draymond Green (@money23green) on Oct 27, 2017 at 9:49am PDT
Wow! This sure does sound very Donald Sterling-esque. But I’m sure the fans pay to see him play and he’s putting himself at risk of CTE by going out there every Sunday and giving 110%! Inmates? For starters, let’s stop using the word owner and maybe use the word Chairman. To be owned by someone just sets a bad precedent to start. It’s sets the wrong tone. It gives one the wrong mindset. Webster states that an inmate is a person confined to an institution such as a prison or hospital. Not sure these tax paying men should be referred to as inmates- but what do I know?
Green then expounded on those comments during the Warriors’ shootaround ahead their Friday night meeting with the Washington Wizards:
Draymond Green, echoing his Instagram post, very critical of Bob McNair's 'inmates run the asylum' comment pic.twitter.com/pWeemWAfuW
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 27, 2017
“First they were sons of bitches and now inmates?” Green said. “I know some inmates. They don’t pay taxes. They’re not community leaders. They’re not [Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm] Jenkins, flying to the White House, flying to D.C., doing all these things to make a difference. They’re not [former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin] Kaepernick, donating $1 million. That’s like, c’mon man — inmates? That’s unacceptable.”
Green was then asked how he thinks [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell should react.
“Will he react to it, is the question?” Green said. “I mean, I wouldn’t personally want to play for somebody who view me as an inmate. Because I haven’t done nothing in my life to be an inmate. To be an inmate, you’re either in a hospital or in prison. I’m not in a hospital and I’m for damn sure not in a prison.”
Even if you give McNair the benefit of the doubt — that he wasn’t actually comparing NFL players and athletes like them to prisoners — it’s not hard to understand athletes bristling at his chosen form of presentation, anyway. Inmates running the asylum, kids in a candy store, fox guarding the henhouse, whatever: all cast the owners as those in power and control, and the players as those who need to be controlled and kept out of power, lest things get out of hand. They’re not partners. They’re products.
The framing of the dynamic grates nearly as much as the language … and then, man, there’s that language.
Green also took McNair to task for his claim that he was just “using a figure of speech.”
“If I come out and give a figure of speech on anything — whether that’s race, whether that’s sexual orientation, whatever that is — if I give a figure of speech in 2017, I’m going to get ridiculed by any group that’s formed to protect one’s group,” Green told reporters. “I’m going to be fined by the NBA. I’m going to be looked at ridiculously by the community. So why is that OK? I disagree with that. If you’re an inmate, you’re not playing. They pay taxes just like he pay taxes and, if I’ve learned a bit about business, maybe more. So it’s a strong word to use about someone else’s kids again. It’s crazy.”
Green isn’t the only NBA player who responded forcefully to both McNair’s turn of phrase and the “just a figure of speech”/”sorry if you were offended” follow-up …
SMH! Him and Donald Sterling must be really good friends https://t.co/MqSr6KCXyn
— Isaiah Thomas (@Isaiah_Thomas) October 27, 2017
Too late Bob, I ain’t rollin! Hopefully nobody is…even though I’m not a Texans fan, I’m from Houston and this irks me…and millions!
— DeAndre Jordan (@DeAndre) October 27, 2017
“Can’t have the inmates running the prison” McNair showed his true colors with that statement. No need to apologize. We know you meant it.
— Garrett Temple (@GTemp14) October 27, 2017
Nothing fake about this., this shows some of the owners mindset of their own players https://t.co/N1Ttsqc0W8
— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) October 27, 2017
… and I’d wager more will be on their way.
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