When the national anthem was played before Sunday afternoon's game between the Texans and Seahawks, more than three quarters of the team declined to stand.
Despite the furor that has unfolded this season over whether NFL players should have the right to take a knee during the national anthem, the Houston Texans have stayed out of the spotlight, dutifully standing for the anthem before every game.
That changed Sunday at CenturyLink Field. Before Houston lost 41-38 to the Seahawks, the Texans linked arms during the national anthem, and more than three quarters of the team took a knee, with 10 players standing.
“I support my players 100 percent. I love my players,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said when asked to comment on what his team did during the anthem.
This response comes two days after news emerged that, during an NFL owners meeting to address player protests during the national anthem, Texans owner Bob McNair commented “we can’t have the inmates running the prison.”
“What he said, a lot of the players felt was wrong,” said cornerback Marcus Williams, who had four tackles and intercepted Russell Wilson late in the fourth quarter. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got to come out and play the game. What happens off the field, we try to keep it there, and when it’s time to play, we gotta come out and make plays.”
McNair has since issued two public apologies and he also addressed the issue with his team on Saturday. McNair did not make the trip to Seattle for the game.
But Texans tackle Duane Brown said Sunday evening that the meeting with McNair went “not too well.”
Still, Brown said the Texans went into Sunday entirely focused on the game.
“It was a lot of emotions running for our team, but just a huge sense of unity we all felt coming out here and playing for each other,” Brown. “And that was that. Once kickoff started, we tried to block out any other distractions we may have had.”
McNair’s comment drew rebukes from numerous NFL players around the league, including the more outspoken Seahawks like Richard Sherman and Bobby Wagner, and many news outlets reported Friday that multiple Texans players had considered boycotting practice. Only two – receiver DeAndre Hopkins and running back D’Onta Foreman – ended up doing so.
Hopkins finished as the Texans’ leading receiver against Seattle, with eight catches for 224 yards and a touchdown. But he declined to discussed the reasons why he skipped practice on Friday.
“I play football for a living. I don’t get into political things,” Hopkins said.
Asked if he’d made a conscious decision to not discuss social issues, Hopkins said, “Actions are always louder than words, especially peaceful actions.”
The Texans said they held a team meeting to determine what to do during the anthem on Sunday, and the consensus was to link arms but allow people to make individual decisions.
“We discussed it as a team, and we’re a really tight group, so we all stuck together,” Texans backup quarterback Tom Savage said.
Still, there was clearly some division along racial lines. Nine of the 10 players who stood for the anthem were white: Savage, linebacker Brian Peters, long snapper Jon Weeks, fullback Jay Prosch, offensive tackle Breno Giacomini, center Nick Martin, center Greg Manz, tight end Ryan Griffin, and punter Shane Lechler. The 10th, offensive guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, is Samoan.
“It’s just a personal decision,” Savage said of why he chose to stand. “I talked to everybody on our team before I did what I did. It’s raising a good discussion between a lot of guys, and that’s the main priority in here, and it’s opened up a good dialogue.”
The only white player who took a knee was linebacker Ben Heeney, who acknowledged that he was “a little bit” affected by McNair’s comment about inmates running the asylum, but said, “I don’t want to speak on that too much.”
“I just did what I felt was right at the time,” Heeney said.
Brown, who appears to be the players’ unofficial spokesperson on the matter, downplayed the notion that there was a division among racial lines based on what guys had chosen to do during the anthem.
“I’m never one to force anybody to do anything they don’t feel comfortable with,” Brown said. “I think we all felt the same way on Friday and as far as the demonstrations went, some people didn’t quite feel comfortable doing it, some people did. But we all supported each other.
“What was important is I don’t think anyone looks at anyone differently for what they stood for or didn’t stand for.”