Jets receiver Jermaine Kearse expressed disappointment over remarks made during a recent NFL owners’ meeting in which Texans owner Bob McNair said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison” during a discussion about player protests during the national anthem.
“It’s definitely frustrating to hear that,” Kearse said after the Jets’ 25-20 loss to the Falcons at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. “You try to not react in an irresponsible way. Then I think to myself, that’s exactly how they want us to respond. It’s a distraction from what we’re so far accomplishing.”
McNair has since apologized for the remarks, which were reported in an ESPN story on Friday. McNair insists he was not referring to his players when he made the comments. He said in a statement released by the Texans on Friday that he regretted using the word “inmates” as a figure of speech, and on Saturday, he tried to clarify those remarks by saying he was referring to the relationship between the owners and the NFL league office and “how they have been making significant decisions affecting our league without adequate input from ownership.”
The majority of Texans players took a knee during the national anthem before Sunday’s game against the Seahawks in Seattle, and several other players sat during the song. No Texans players had knelt or sat during the anthem before Sunday.
“I feel like we’re taking the necessary steps to make change, and it’s a distraction to try to veer us away from that,” Kearse said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to stay together and stay focused on the issue and not what somebody said, because that’s what it’s all about.”
Several players have taken a knee since former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick protested during the anthem before games last season. The protests are meant to draw attention to racial injustice in America but have been met with fierce criticism by many fans and politicians, including President Donald Trump, who has suggested that players be fired if they don’t stand for the anthem.
The Jets have stood at attention during the anthem, although players and coaches now lock arms during the song. Team owner Christopher Johnson, who has taken control of the team since his brother Woody became the United States ambassador to the United Kingdom, has stood with his players during the anthem.
Running back Matt Forte said McNair’s comments are “probably an analogy he wants to have back. I wouldn’t say NFL players are inmates, and this isn’t a prison. That kind of comparison is probably a terrible one. I think everybody across America would say that as well. It’s unfortunate he would think of us that way, or his team that way.
“I can’t control what people think or how they’re raised or what environment they’re in or whatever. To me, I’m level-headed. It’s not really a race, it’s a human race. Ethnicity is something that’s real. Racism is not real, it’s made up to create division. If you take it from that aspect, you love all people of all creeds and colors.”
Forte said Christopher Johnson “has been great, and we’ve talked to him plenty of times [about] doing stuff and to shine a light on these issues and talk about real change in the communities and across America.”