The recent ownership meetings, which became dominated by the anthem controversy, included plenty of interesting and compelling moments. Arguably the most inflammatory moment came when, according to Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta. Jr. of ESPN.com, Texans owner Bob McNair used a common figure of speech when referring to the power the players have acquired via the question of whether they’ll stand for the national anthem.
“We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” McNair said.
The remark came during an ownership-only session, without current players present. A former player, NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent, reportedly took issue with the remark. He explained during the meeting that, even though he had been called “every name in the book” during his playing career, not once did he feel like an “inmate.”
Via the report, Vincent and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones then engaged in a “sharp but quick back-and-forth,” as Jones pointed out that it was the league’s owners who built the business and it is the league’s owners who will decide what to do about the situation. McNair would later apologize to Vincent, explaining (per the report) that McNair didn’t mean his words to be taken literally.
While McNair’s apology was warranted, “inmates running the asylum” is a common reference to situations where leadership is surrendered to those supposedly being led. Still, the choice of words invites the same kind of criticism that literal interpretation of the phrase “son of a bitch” sparked after President Trump used that term in reference to players who fail to stand for the anthem.