Former Houston Texans running back Arian Foster says he was not surprised by Texans Owner Bob McNair’s “inmates” comment. On the contrary, Foster believes that’s how NFL owners “view the players anyway.”
The Texans signed Foster as an undrafted free agent in 2009, and he spent most of his seven-year NFL career in Houston, but apparently, the player felt no compunctions about slamming team owner Bob McNair. Foster said that it didn’t surprise him when he heard that during a discussion about anthem protests, McNair said the league can’t allow the “inmates” to make the rules for the league, USA Today reported.
“You hear the rumblings, so … that was my first thought – that it didn’t surprise me he thought like that,” Foster said. “Knowing my experience of being an NFL player, it is of my understanding that that’s how they view the players anyway.”
The NFL owner’s comments came during an owners meeting where the league struggled to agree on a policy on what to do about the anti-American protests that had been driving fans away in droves.
During the October, 2017 meeting, McNair praised Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones for his outspoken opposition to the player protests and said of players seeking to set the agenda for the league, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”
McNair quickly apologized for the using the euphemism and said he was merely employing a common saying. But several months later he backtracked from that apology saying he should never have offered such a retraction.
The Texans owner has been a steadfast opponent of the player protests. This year, for instance, he insisted that game time is not the right time for such outbursts and said he hopes the league will further define rules forcing the players to stand for the anthem.
But the two-time NFL rushing touchdowns leader, who now fashions himself a rapper and podcaster, says McNair’s view of the players is couched in an old-fashioned view of keeping the races separate.
“I absolutely take who (McNair) is and where he comes from into consideration. He is an 80-year-old white man. When he was younger the prevailing thought was that there are two races that don’t really belong together,” Foster accused. “He could have been brought up to where he was raised the exact opposite and I am totally open to that. I come to the conclusion that it doesn’t bother and it just doesn’t surprise me if that is how he thinks and I am not going to lose any sleep over how Bob McNair views the players.”
Foster also said that the main reason anthem protest inventor Colin Kaepernick is not playing today is because of racism. “I think it is dishonest that (the owners) won’t admit that, absolutely,” he said.
However, Foster also noted that many players get in trouble by not being able to articulate positions on contentious social issues:
“When you bring (politics) into the sports world the real problem is … I don’t think the majority of players have time or care to research these issues to the point where they can articulate their thoughts against anybody who opposes their position,” Foster said. “It brings a huge problem into play when you bring in the fact that athletes and entertainers are representatives of their communities. You kind of become the torchbearer for an entire community when that’s not what you went to school for, that’s not what you’ve been studying for your whole life.
“It is multifaceted and it is unfairly placed in the laps of these players, but that’s the price that you pay when you have any kind of fame.”
While the former player lapsed into rote charges of racism, his last point is well-taken. Athletes spend their entire youths working on their sport. Few spend much energy on issues outside of sports, so in some cases, it would be “unfair” to expect them to have well thought out arguments on social issues.
But, perhaps that is exactly why Bob McNair is right when he says that the football field is not the place for protests?
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.