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Why The Racist Comments By Houston NFL Owner Cut So Deep

As a show of solidarity, more than half of the Texans players took a knee before Sunday’s game.

Illustration by Mike Richardson.

“We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” — Bob McNair

Words that, for many, echoed a time when black people were sold and restocked like pints of beer — auctioned off on America’s blood-soaked plantation fields and chain-gang lines. Words that violently and unapologetically pluck the gut-strings of every black man who has ever been unjustly pulled over by the cops. Words that dig up the painful memories of what it’s like to feel subhuman, spiritually emasculated, and unjustly robbed of everyday freedoms. Words that stick to the stomach of men of color — like mud to the bottom of cleats.


As a black man, who’s been “randomly” stopped by the police well over 10 times, it’s impossible for me to fully articulate what it’s like to be wrongly associated with criminality. Your nerves dance as you fight an impossible battle between rationale, human error, and racism. Nina Simone said it best when referring to what freedom means her: “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. I mean really, no fear. If I could have that half of my life. No fear.”

And like a perfectly landed chin check, Bob McNair reminded us of moments we’ll spend most of our lives trying to forget — while giving us a glimpse into the mind of a man who has little regard for his players and their fight for the full-distribution of equality.

Richard Sherman. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

As the Seahawks outspoken cornerback Richard Sherman told ESPN, “I appreciate when people like that show who they are.” To say McNair’s comments weren’t “out of bounds,” as some have labeled, is inaccurate and complicit. They were flat-out racist.

After meeting with his players, McNair, who donated $1 million to Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, told the Houston Chronicle: “I know they were upset ... I wanted to answer their questions. I told them if I had to do it over again I wouldn’t use that expression.”

Following a Sunday where a reported 65% of NFL players took a knee in response to him viewing them as prisoners, McNair still seems to struggle with reality or, at best, remains delusionally misguided. The fact that McNair is so detached from the plight of black players — even while attending a meeting regarding the nuances of that plight — is part mind-boggling and part American. Considering the revolutionary stance most black players are taking to establish a unified voice, McNair put his players, and a league taking steps to heal, in a peculiar, yet unfortunately familiar, position. As a show of solidarity, more than half of the Texans players took a knee before Sunday’s game. Others stood, holding the hands of those kneeling.

“NFL owners own teams, not players.” — Randy Moss, Hall of Famer, ESPN NFL analyst

Bob McNair’s statement can be seen as an indirect rallying cry to NFL owners and dedicated guardsmen of white supremacy, in search of an answer to combat the revolt of a troublesome property. In this case, the property is the black professional football player, who on any given Sunday — between brain rattlin’ hits and kneecap crackin’ slaps — is expected to subordinately perform without exercising emotion, opinion, or conscience. Just like slaves were expected to.

In one of the few arenas in modern society where human capital is grossly dominated by financial gain, many players are left with broken bones, broken brains, and broken bank accounts. Reminiscent of a Confederate general, proudly gazing at the keloid laced, sun-fried backs of the black bucks’ working the field — NFL owners much prefer the sound of sharp metal slicing through grass over songs of freedom. Since the days of indentured servitude, black folks have been pleading for a seat at the table, a dignified position in society, and respect.

The NFL, by most accounts, has historically run a phenomenally successful organization using a business model similar to the prison-industrial complex: relatively discounted laborers, most of whom are men of color, working to fatten the pockets of old white dudes. Another reason McNair’s words cut so deep.

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