In the midst of the NFL’s Anthem-kneeling controversy last October, ESPN The Magazine reported that Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said during a league-wide owners meeting, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”
Condemnation was swift. Most Texans players kneeled during the subsequent game’s National Anthem in protest of McNair, two players left practice, and then-Texan Duane Brown sharply criticized McNair in public.
McNair likely was thinking of the well-known idiom, “the inmates are running the asylum” — which means that the people least capable of running the organization are running the organization. It has nothing to do with race, but, nonetheless, substituting “prison” for “asylum,” even in a private meeting, was a mistake that was bound to be misconstrued — and it was, quite wildly and breathlessly.
McNair issued a public apology “to anyone who was offended,” clarifying that he “never meant to offend anyone” and “was not referring to our players.”
“I regret that I used that expression,” McNair said at the time. “I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally. I would never characterize our players or our league that way.”
Now, it turns out that what McNair most regrets is issuing an apology in the first place.
“The main thing I regret is apologizing,” McNair told The Wall Street Journal in a story published Friday. “I really didn’t have anything to apologize for.”
He said the “inmates” he was referring to in the October meeting were league executives who had too much control over key business decisions.
“We were talking about a number of things, but we were also washing our dirty linen, which you do internally. You don’t do that publicly. That’s what I was addressing: The relationship of owners and the league office,” McNair said.
Asked about players who kneel for the National Anthem, McNair said that players who don’t want to stand should remain in the locker room.
“If they’re going to be out there, we need to respect the anthem and our flag,” he said, intimating that the league should revise its policy to make it mandatory for players on the field to stand for the National Anthem. “As employers, we set conditions for all of our employees.”