O'Brien sidesteps question of Texans owner's stance on national anthem protests

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Coach Bill O'Brien comments on Bob McNair (KTRK)

NFL owners arrived at their annual meetings divided on how best to address player protests during the national anthem. Rigorous discussions are expected to take place this week, and at least one owner is calling for a new policy by the end of May.

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, one of the NFL's most powerful owners, made clear that he believes that "political statements" have no place as part of football Sundays. McNair earlier came under fire for his controversial comments about the protests after he was quoted as saying, "We can't have the inmates running the prison."

McNair said he considers the issue a matter of respect to the country and flag, even though the players involved -- led by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick -- have said they are protesting police brutality and systemic oppression.

"We're going to deal with it in such a way that people will understand we want everybody to respect our country, respect our flag," McNair said. "Our playing field, that's not the place for political statements. That's not the place for religious statements. It's the place for football. That's what we need to be doing."

Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, on the other hand, seems determined to stay firmly in the middle of the road.

When asked at a media availability what he thought of McNair's comments, O'Brien responded, "I've said many, many times over the last year that I respect everybody's opinion. My personal opinion is, and I know it's the opinion of the organization, I really believe this, players have a right to express themselves. We have very smart players that feel strongly about social issues. I believe in that. I believe in our players' right to express themselves and I respect everybody's opinion in the matter, and that's really all I have to say about it. That's what I've said all along. It is what it is."

Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in August 2016. But the issue became a matter of national discussion last season when President Donald Trump began advocating for players to stand or be disciplined. According to McNair, fan feedback on the protests has been negative.

"Fans are our customers," he said. "You could replace all the owners, and the league would go on. You could replace all the players, and the league would go on. The quality of play probably wouldn't be as good. But you can't replace the fans. If you don't have the fans, you're dead. We've got to pay attention to them and make sure they know we respect the flag, we respect our service people, we love our country. This is where we all get our opportunity."

When pressed further for his thoughts on McNair's comments, O'Brien elaborated, "I've said this many times before, that we all have our own opinion on things. When it comes to the players' right to express themselves, I'm always for that. I think the players in this league, players on our team, they have educated, intelligent opinions on what's going on socially in the world. Not to get too deep, but it's a very divided country right now. The more we can listen to each other, the more we can talk about these things, I think we can come and find some common ground. I think the problem is we don't talk enough about it. Now, on the subject of the McNairs, I just want to be real clear that I think it's very important for all of us to take a step back and think about what the McNairs have done for the City of Houston. I mean, it's incredible. Even before they bought the team but especially after they bought the team, the things that they've done relative to all the different programs that they've helped in Houston, the YMCA, the food bank, Hurricane Harvey, what they did for Hurricane Harvey. I mean, there's just so many different things (that) it's hard to sit here and list them all but I think Bob McNair and Janice McNair are great people. They've meant a lot to that city. Like I said, I just want to make clear that's the way I feel about the McNairs."

ESPN contributed to this story.
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sportspoliticsHouston Texansnational anthemprotestnfl
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