McMullen: The real issue with Bob McNair’s comments
A 79-year-old man got an idiom wrong and that has somehow been conflated by many as the smoking gun to prove the NFL and its owners are at best racially insensitive to many of their employees.
The flub in question came from Houston Texans owner Bob McNair during a meeting between a small group of players and 11 different owners earlier this month in New York, which was an effort to find some common ground between one side using their platform for social activism and another concerned with a brand that has been built into a $13 billion behemoth.
The spin coming out of the meeting was mostly positive and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell did not emerge from it with an edict to stand during the National Anthem, an outcome many expected.
That all changed, however, when ESPN the Magazine posted a thoughtful, nuanced and contextual piece from Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham. To anyone who actually read the article, it was a well-reported effort to explain a difficult landscape and serious attempts from both sides to navigate it.
To others who skipped the heavy lifting and went toward the many aggregators searching for click bait, things were about to blow up thanks to McNair's fumbling attempts to call up the thought of inmates running the asylum, a time-tested cliche to describe the theory that the people least capable of running a group or organization are now in charge.
What McNair was actually quoted as saying was this: “We can’t have the inmates running the prison."
One word changes everything and evoked a racial component that set social media ablaze.
McNair and the Texans quickly tried to add the context but the toothpaste was out of the tube by that point and he was already branded by one-half of a polarized society.
Ironically, McNair was disrespectful to the players just not in the way that it is being portrayed.
Obviously, there is a long history of racial incendiary comments from those in power toward minorities and the prison language is the easy connect on an emotional level. More so, the players doing the protesting are almost all African-American.
So it certainly has to be insulting if you're DeAndre Hopkins, Duane Brown, Deshaun Watson, Jadeveon Clowney or Whitney Mercilus. However, McNair was speaking about all players, however, so where does J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and Nick Martin fit into that narrative?
The real issue here is the perceived partnership between the players and the owners, a marriage that may be close to 50/50 on paper (the revenue split) but is nowhere near that when it comes to stewardship of the game.
Former Cowboys' executive Tex Schramm once famously told then NFLPA-chief Gene Upshaw, “You guys are cattle and we’re the ranchers, and ranchers can always get more cattle.”
Power is what $3.3 billion in the bank buys you and people like McNair will never see their employees as partners.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for Extra Points Media and 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen