On Thursday night, Texans tackle Duane Brown raised a fist during the national anthem, two days after tweeting, “I hope I see the same amount of outrage on here for this killing of an unarmed American citizen as I do for someone kneeling.”
On Friday, Texans coach Bill O’Brien opened his day-after-shutout press conference with a statement regarding Brown that seemed to be heading in one direction, but that then took a hard turn.
“I’m going to start off just talking about Duane Brown and the national anthem,” O’Brien said, via comments distributed by the team. “We’ve been clear as an organization that our expectation for the Houston Texans is that we stand for the national anthem. This team has a long history of supporting our veterans, active military and our first responders. This support has been evident since the inception of the franchise.”
Those first four sentences created the impression that the Texans weren’t happy with Brown for his gesture. Then came the jerking of the wheel.
“I understand that there is a lot going on in this country right now and that we all have strong opinions about it,” O’Brien said. “Duane Brown expressed himself during the anthem, which is his right. It is his right of free speech. It’s his right to do what he did during the anthem last night. I support his individual right to do that.”
O’Brien later was asked whether he has spoken to Brown about the situation, and whether O’Brien is concerned other players will join in the protest.
“I have spoken to Duane about it,” O’Brien said. “Again, I would tell you that I’m not concerned at all about what our players are going to do as it relates to that. Again, I think it’s their right to express their opinion. I support that right. As an organization, we encourage them to stand for the national anthem because of all the things I just said that Mr. McNair and the Texans stand for. With that, I will tell you that I think very highly of all of our players. I know that they’re very thoughtful guys and they’ll do what they believe is right.”
On one hand, O’Brien conveyed the Texans’ position that the organization wraps itself in the flag. On the other hand, O’Brien made it clear that he believes players can do whatever they want, notwithstanding the “expectation” from the organization that they will stand at attention. The somewhat mixed signals likely reflect the tension O’Brien feels as the employee of an owner who likely believes, similar to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, that it is “really disappointing” when players don’t stand at attention for the anthem and as the head coach of a team consisting of at least one key player who currently refuses to do so, given other issues currently unfolding in our nation.
The broader question is whether McNair will speak with equal care and tact, if and when he’s questioned on the subject. Chances are that won’t happen until next Sunday, when the Titans comes to town for a Week Four game.