More than 30 members of the Houston Texans took a knee and several sat during the anthem before Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks in protest of owner Bob McNair's comment that "we can't have the inmates running the prison."
Seven Seahawks players – five in uniform and two inactive players – sat during the anthem, continuing the protest Michael Bennett started earlier this year.
But the Texans’ demonstration though was most notable, given the intense negative reaction from players in Houston and around the league on Friday after McNair’s “inmates” comment was reported in an ESPN story that detailed what happened during league meetings in New York City last week. McNair’s quote came during an owners-only session to discuss the protest issue.
Owners did not vote to change a policy that would require players to stand for the anthem during that meeting.
McNair issued two public apologies via statements distributed by the Texans. In the first statement Friday morning, he said he regretted using the word “inmates” as part of a figure of speech, and he never intended for it to refer to his players. On Saturday, he attempted to further clarify his comments by saying he was referring to the relationship between the league office and team owners and “how they have been making significant decisions affecting our league without adequate input from ownership.”
But McNair did not meet with Texans players until Saturday, a day after two offensive players, star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and rookie running back D’Onta Foreman, skipped practice. Left tackle Duane Brown told reporters on Friday that players considered a mass walkout but ultimately decided to practice and fly to Seattle.
McNair’s apologies and Saturday’s meeting did not appear to do much to assuage players’ concerns however, and ESPN reported Saturday night that players were weighing their options about what sort of demonstration that would do Sunday in Seattle. ESPN reported that players considered remaining in the locker room or even taking the Texans decal off their helmets, though they did neither.
As the anthem began, Texans players looked around at each other and then the majority knelt in unison. Many players held hands. Several of the players who chose to stand put a hand on a teammate’s shoulder.
It is the first time this year that any Texans players have demonstrated during the anthem, beyond when the team stood with linked arms during Week 3.