Houston Texans NFL football team owner Robert McNair arrives for meetings at the league headquarters in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Texans owner Bob McNair said this week that he regrets apologizing in October for his can’t-have-the-inmates-running-the-prison comment that created controversy in Houston and around the NFL.

McNair reiterated in a Wall Street Journal story Thursday what he said at the time – that he was talking about the league office and not the players and their protests during the national anthem.

“The main thing I regret is apologizing,” McNair told the Wall Street Journal in an interview he did in March that was published Thursday. “I really didn’t have anything to apologize for.”

ESPN the Magazine, quoting an anonymous source, said McNair was talking about players when he told the owners at a meeting in New York, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

McNair apologized twice at the time and said he was talking about the league office in New York, where he thought some executives, rather than the owners, were acting like they ran the NFL.

“We were talking about a number of things, but we were also washing some of our dirty linen, which you do internally,” McNair told the Journal. “You don’t do that publicly. That’s what I was addressing: The relationship of owners and the league office.

“In business, it’s a common expression. But the general public doesn’t understand it, perhaps.”

McNair also denied a comment made by former offensive tackle Duane Brown during the controversy that the owner was critical of Barack Obama after he was elected president in 2008.

“I don’t go into meetings and express views like that,” said McNair, who called Brown a troublemaker. “I never said that. He (Brown) has no problem saying things that are not true.”

When the Texans refused to give Brown a contract extension with two years left on the deal, he asked to be traded and they shipped him to Seattle for second- and third-round draft choices.

At the recent league meetings in Orlando, McNair made it clear to reporters that he believes players should stand for the national anthem and that politics and religion don’t belong on the field.

McNair was the first owner deposed in former quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s lawsuit. Kaepernick claims collusion is keeping him from getting a job in the NFL because of his kneeling during the national anthem and his political views while playing for San Francisco.

McNair said after the 2016 season, the Texans checked out Kaepernick, but the coaches “didn’t like the way he threw the ball.”

At the league meetings in May, the owners are expected to address the national anthem issue. There’s a chance the league could change the current rule that allows players to kneel to returning to the way it used to be when teams stayed in the dressing room until the national anthem was over.


“If they’re going to be out there, we need to respect the anthem and our flag,” McNair told the Journal. “If folks don’t want to do that, well, stay in the locker room.

“As employers, we set conditions for all of our employees. We don’t allow political meetings or statements or that sort of thing during working hours. You wouldn’t let somebody working at McDonald’s, when somebody pulls through, give them a hamburger and say, ‘I don’t know why you’re eating that beef, why aren’t you a vegetarian?’ You don’t allow that. Well, that’s freedom of expression.

“We need to stay out of politics. That’s been my message.”

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