During a meeting of NFL owners earlier this month, Texans owner Bob McNair stunned several owners and former players when he compared players protesting racial inequality to "inmates."
"We can't have inmates running the prison," said McNair, according to a new report by ESPN the Magazine reporters Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr.
Former Eagles player Troy Vincent, who is the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, was among those offended by McNair's comparison, noting that during his time in the NFL, he has been called many things — "including the N-word" — but never felt like an "inmate."
"I regret that I used that expression. I never meant to offend anyone, and I was not referring to our players," McNair said in a statement after ESPN's story was published, adding he would never characterize players in the league that way. "I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally."
According to the report, McNair, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump who donated millions to his presidential campaign, also apologized privately to Vincent for the comparison after the meeting.
The report also noted that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie emerged as one of the more thoughtful leaders, saying Lurie spoke up supporting players' right to kneel.
After the annual meeting, the NFL announced it would not require players to stand during the national anthem, angering Trump, who tweeted that the league has "total disrespect" for the country.
Protesting players have become an issue for broadcasters, who appear divided on whether to show the anthem before games. During ESPN's production meeting in Philadelphia earlier this week ahead of Monday Night Football, there was a discussion among the production crew about whether to show Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins raising his fist in the air during the anthem. Ultimately, ESPN didn't show the anthem ahead of the game's broadcast.