HOUSTON — Some Texans players considered staging a walkout following a comment by team owner Bob McNair that compared NFL players to “inmates,” a source told ESPN.
About 10 players, including Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, left the facility Friday, the source said.
Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Hopkins’ absence from practice was directly related to McNair’s comment. Running back D’Onta Foreman also did not practice over the quote, sources told ESPN.
Most of the players who left returned to the facility, the source said, and the remaining players were talked out of their protest by the coaching staff.
“When it happened, there’s a thousand emotions going through your mind,” left tackle Duane Brown said. “Obviously, one of the emotions is to leave the building immediately. [But] we decided to go to work. The situation’s not over. It’s something that we’ll reconvene and talk about again, but we had practice today.”
Texans coach Bill O’Brien said Hopkins had taken a “personal day.”
“I’m 100 percent with these players,” O’Brien said. “I love these players, I love this coaching staff. We will show up in Seattle and play. We will play very hard. Seattle is a great football team with a great coaching staff. But we will be there when the ball is kicked off in Seattle.”
O’Brien said he expects Hopkins to be on the team plane to fly to Seattle on Saturday and that the wide receiver will play Sunday against the Seahawks.
McNair issued a public apology Friday following an ESPN The Magazine report that McNair said “We can’t have the inmates running the prison” during last week’s owners meeting, in reference to ongoing player demonstrations during the national anthem.
“I regret that I used that expression,” McNair said in a statement. “I never meant to offend anyone and I was not referring to our players. 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 and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”
O’Brien apprised his team of McNair’s controversial comment at a Friday morning meeting so that they would not be blindsided, sources told Schefter, yet it still enraged many players.
In response to their outrage and threatened walkout, O’Brien, general manager Rick Smith and assistant head coach Romeo Crennel led a 90-minute meeting in which the players were given a platform in a “candid conversation” to speak out and work through their emotions, sources said.
The goal was to make sure that the organization did not splinter and that it would turn protest into progress. Sources said the meeting delayed the start of practice.
McNair made the “inmates” statement after other owners at the Oct. 18 meeting talked of business concerns related to the anthem protests, a day after several owners and players had met to discuss social reform.
After the owners finished talking, NFL executive Troy Vincent said 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.”
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.
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith reacted to McNair’s comment in a statement given to SportsCenter on Friday night.
“Our men are working Americans like anyone else. No one has the right to define them as anything less than a person,” Smith said. “That is what this has always been about.”
Brown said he found McNair’s comments “disrespectful” but said, “I can’t say I’m surprised, and … I’m sure there are a lot of owners that feel that way.”
“I think it was ignorant,” Brown added. “I think it was embarrassing. I think it angered a lot of players, including myself. We put our bodies and minds on the line every time we step on that field, and to use an analogy of inmates in prison, that’s disrespectful. That’s how I feel about it.”
When Brown was asked if he would consider not playing Sunday because of McNair’s comments, the left tackle said he wasn’t sure.
“This game, this locker room, this field that we play on isn’t just about him,” Brown said. “So it’s a lot of factors you have to consider when you step on that field. Definitely something that myself, and I think a lot of people in there, have to consider going forward.”
The Texans have not yet decided what they will do during the national anthem before Sunday’s game in Seattle, but Brown said he “can’t stay quiet about it.”
“As far as the protests are concerned, I think, people are going to feel how they feel about it,” Brown said. “But this is bigger than just the protests. 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.
“It’s frustrating, but I don’t think it should discourage anybody. I think you stand with your beliefs. They feel how they feel. You got to continue to feel how you feel. Hopefully at some point, we’ll meet at some kind of middle ground, but it’s frustrating, for sure.”