Cal McNair, national embarrassment.Photo: Getty Images
I’m starting to sense a pattern here.
The Washington Football Team is not the only embarrassing franchise in the NFL. For at least the last five years, the Houston Texans have systematically ruined a promising young team through mismanagement, power grabs, and scandal — the most recent of which features team owner Cal McNair. At a Texans charity golf event in May, according to Bally Sports’ Michael Silver, McNair referred to COVID-19 as the “China Virus.” On Tuesday, a Texans executive sent McNair’s apology to Bally Sports.
That is the term popularized by former President Donald Trump early into the pandemic, and it contributed to a rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans. Stop AAPI Hate reported that from March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021 it received 3,795 reports of hate incidents, 11.1 percent of which included physical violence.
These are not the first racially loaded comments to come from Texans ownership. Cal’s father and former team owner, the late Bob McNair, received backlash for comments he reportedly made during a meeting with owners surrounding Colin Kaepernick, his protests against police brutality, and his kneeling for the national anthem. Bemoaning the impact of Kap’s protests on television ratings, the elder McNair said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” He apologized, only to announce soon after that he regretted apologizing. He also reportedly made another racially insensitive comment at a meeting between owners and players, when he said, “You fellas need to ask your compadres, fellas, stop that other business, let’s go out and do something that really produces positive results and we will help you.”
He even offered public sympathy to former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who sold his team rather quickly in 2018 after building a giant statue of himself as accusations against him of racism and sexual misconduct began to emerge. The elder McNair said at the 2018 owner’s meetings that Richardson is “an outstanding person” and “sometimes things get misunderstood.”
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The Texans, like Washington, also had their own problem with the treatment of cheerleaders. They were sued by former cheerleaders for unsafe working conditions and failing to pay minimum wage. A separate suit was filed against the cheerleading coach at the time, Altoise Gary, who was accused of bullying the cheerleaders, including duct taping one cheerleader’s stomach and telling a Hispanic cheerleader to curl her hair or another “Latina girl” would be found to replace her. Both cases were eventually sent to arbitration and Gary resigned.
In 2020, Sports Illustrated published a story about the Texans that is more embarrassing than it was racist or sexist. Jack Easterby got into sports as a camp counselor who became South Carolina’s “character coach.” He parlayed that to an NFL career, and has been with the Texans since 2019, hired at first as the “Executive Vice President of Team Development.” His influence grew in the organization to the point where once Bill O’Brien was fired in 2020, he performed general manager duties for the Texans until Nick Caserio was hired in early 2021. In the SI story, several anonymous sources accused Easterby of grasping for power despite his executive incompetence.
Washington. Houston. McNair. Richardson. Jon Gruden. Deshaun Watson. The NFL’s problem is bigger than any one employee, player, or franchise. McNair’s comments are coming to light two weeks after Gruden was forced out by the Raiders over his bigoted emails. McNair’s comments were not even found in a document. Only a handful of people remember McNair making that racist statement at an event.
Whatever comes of this Washington investigation, or whichever team trades for Watson, feel free to judge all of these parties. However, do remember that almost all of the current NFL owners were in place when Kaepernick simply made a statement in favor of civil rights, and, at 33 years old, he has not been on a roster since he was 29. That season, his teammates voted for him to receive the 49ers’ most prestigious honor, the Len Eshmont Award, bestowed on the franchise’s most inspirational and courageous player.
The NFL can stencil “end racism” onto all the turf it wants, but at the pace the league is going, that phrase is worth about as much as the paint it’s written with.