During last week’s meeting between NFL owners and players, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair made some comments that were…well, a little less than tasteful.

“We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” said McNair.

Sure, I think we all know what he means, but that in no way excuses the choice of language. Yes, it’s an expression, no I don’t think it’s fair to say that he legitimately sees his players as inmates. McNair, however, should be much smarter with his language. In the current political climate, especially with regards to protesting the national anthem and kneeling before NFL games, it is important to watch your vocabulary and what turns of expression you use.

Needless to say, McNair’s comments were not received well by the Texans.

“This is bigger than just the protests,” said offensive tackle Duane Brown. “This is the view of player-owner relationship. This is how you view us. You’re an inmate; we can’t let you guys out of line. We can’t let you speak for yourself. We can’t let you have your own beliefs. That’s what it feels like. It’s a bad situation.”

Star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins even took a “personal day,” as head coach Bill O’Brien put it after reports of the comments started to circulate. The team also began speaking of ways to get back at their owner. They considered everything from boycotting the game to ripping the Texans logo off their helmets before the game. In the end, the majority of the players decided to take a knee during the national anthem, many locking arms. They still played their hearts out in the 41-38 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, however, so it didn’t much affect their performance.

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McNair’s comments resonated far beyond the Houston Texans organization and the NFL. Professional athletes across the industry had something to say about the whole “inmates” thing, with most agreeing that the language “owner” seems archaic.

“Wow!” exclaimed Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green. “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?”

The language argument is interesting. McNair is the owner of the Houston Texans. No denying that. He does not, obviously, own the players. If you own a business, you do not own your employees. The owner of McDonald’s does not own his employees. The only different between these two situations is the added fame of the NFL players.

If we’re going to start calling NFL owners “Chairman,” then I don’t see any reason to keep the word around at all in any form of business that hires employees. Is the word as a whole completely outdated in reference to human organizations? If so, then maybe it’s time we stop using it all together. There are words like that, of course, but I’m not sure that the meaning of “owner” transcends to that level.

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McNair tried to cover his tracks the best he could. He clarified his intentions with the comments, and even apologized for the distraction that he has brought upon his own organization. He also defended himself, saying that he isn’t like that and he’s sad to see that he is now being perceived in that way.

Texans Bob Mcnair apologizes for NFL inmates comment

“As I said yesterday, I was not referring to our players when I made a very regretful comment during the owners meetings last week,” said McNair. “I was referring to the relationship between the league office and team owners and how they have been making significant strategic decisions affecting our league without adequate input from ownership over the past few years. I am truly sorry to the players for how this has impacted them and the perception that it has created of me which could not be further from the truth. Our focus going forward, personally and as an organization, will be towards making meaningful progress regarding the social issues that mean so much to our players and our community.”

As I said earlier, McNair should know better. There’s a very fine line that the owners need to walk right now, and McNair blew right past it.

Also, every time it seems like some progressing is being made towards putting the whole thing here in the rearview mirror, it’s one step forward and two steps back.

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