PHILADELPHIA — Players around the NFL were taken aback on Friday when comments that Houston Texans owner Bob McNair made last week during a private NFL meeting, in which he referred to players as “inmates”, were made finally public.
The full comment, in which McNair stated the NFL can’t “have the inmates running the prison”, were made in regard to the decision by some players to peacefully protest during the national anthem.
“As expected,” receiver Torrey Smith told NJ Advance Media of the comments. “But the most important thing is, we are still continuing to talk to the league and try to do the right thing on our ends, so to me, it is just a comment. We can’t let it effect what we are trying to do.”
As for what the NFL could do to McNair, Smith was realistic about the situation.
“He is like the warden,” Smith said. “You can’t fine the warden, can you?”
Although McNair has since apologized, cornerback Jalen Mills was quick to point out how happy he was to play for an owner in Jeffery Lurie that has had the backs of his players that have decided to protest during the anthem.
“Mr. Lurie isn’t like that. I’m blessed not to be in that position to have be on that team and see an article like that…you just don’t want to be around those type of people,” cornerback Jalen Mills said. “For you to see somebody, another person, another human being as that? And you are not in that position? I just don’t like that.”
For Mills, McNair using an analogy that involved prison hit especially close to home.
“My uncle is in jail. My uncle has been in jail. My uncle is in jail for 60 years. My brother went to jail. I went to jail in college before,” Mills said. “Those words? I don’t wish jail on my worse enemy, and that hit home for me because I know a lot of people who have been in jail, that have still been in jail. That isn’t a place to be.”
What the NFL should do about players that kneel during the anthem has become a country-wide discussion ever since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the anthem at the beginning of the 2016 season. Kaepernick, who is no longer in the league, started to kneel as a way to express his displeasure with how he feels minorities are treated in this country.
With Kaepernick gone, perhaps no team has had more players speak out about the issue than the Eagles, who have been led by safety Malcolm Jenkins, receiver Torrey Smith and defensive end Chris Long in efforts to create peace on the issue.
“Lurie has went with Malcolm, Torrey and Chris, and went to police departments and actually talked to officers and officials,” receiver Marcus Johnson said. “That is the first step. Instead of going out — on both sides — and making comments about one another and making comments we’ll regret.”
Jenkins has raised his fist during the national anthem since the start of last season, and recently, Long started putting his hand on Jenkins’ shoulder as a sign of unity.
Lurie’s support for his players has not gone unnoticed in the locker room.
“I love it. That is one of the biggest reasons why we are playing so good,” Mills said. “When you see a guy like Mr. Lurie, going to these meetings with Malcolm, Torrey and Chris. Showing the league that he has their back, and by showing he has their back, he has our back too. It makes you want to play for that guy even more, play for that guy even harder. That makes the love more mutual. It is true, and it is genuine.”