Houston Texans receiver and former Clemson Tiger DeAndre Hopkins walked out of the team’s practice facility and skipped training on Thursday in protest of the team’s owner, Bob McNair, a South Carolina grad, according to reports.
The controversy began Thursday morning, when ESPN The Magazine published a story about the controversial national anthem protests in the NFL and owners’ reaction to them. Buried in the story came a quote from McNair, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, a fierce critic of players kneeling during the anthem.
“We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” McNair reportedly said about the protests during a meeting between owners and players.
By Thursday afternoon, McNair had issued an apology statement.
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“I regret that I used that expression,” McNair said, per ESPN. “I never meant to offend anyone and I was not referring to our players. I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally. I would never characterize our players or our league that way and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”
Still, many players, including the ones on McNair’s Texans, took the comment as a insult and said they were outraged. Several considered walking out of practice over the comments and had to be talked out of it by coaching staff, ESPN reported. Some did in fact leave the practice facility briefly, only to later return and practice.
But Hopkins, a fifth-year receiver who is tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions, never returned to the practice field, and coach Bill O’Brien told the media that he had taken a “personal day.” ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Hopkins’ absence was a direct response to McNair’s comments.
Hopkins, who spent three years at Clemson, has not released a statement on the situation.
McNair, who is worth more than $3 billion, committed $5 million in January to help South Carolina build a new football operations building.