BOLD TURN FOR THE TEAM
How this offseason became the most mind-blowing chapter in the Texans' complicated history
No doubt, sometimes it's difficult to figure out what's going on in Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien's brain – clock management, a profanity-laced confrontation with a fan, giving away superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins in a trade that could get the Arizona Cardinals arrested for highway (I-10) robbery, it goes on.
But one thing about coach O'Brien, there's no wondering where his heart lies. He is clear about his feelings on race, social injustice and human dignity. This season, O'Brien will lay it on the line. He will take a knee in full view of the public, on the field when the national anthem plays before NFL games. He is the first and only coach among America's four major pro sports to announce his intention. Do not question his courage.
"Yeah, I'll take a knee, I'm all for it," O'Brien said. Just a reminder, the Texans have had four coaches in their history. Only one has a winning record, and he's on the record supporting Black Lives Matter.
Last week, O'Brien, along with Texans owner Cal McNair and star player J.J. Watt, attended the funeral of George Floyd, the Houston native who was killed while handcuffed in police custody in Minneapolis. O'Brien, who grew up in Massachusetts and cut his coaching teeth with the New England Patriots, added, "To see discrimination of any kind against an innocent man who was murdered out of evil and ignorance, it simply breaks my heart and makes me angry. We have to do so much better. It's 400 years of slavery. It's segregation. It's police brutality."
Houston should be proud of Texans leadership. The head coach will take a knee for the national anthem. It's not a sudden awakening for O'Brien. He has supported players taking a knee in the past. Our brilliant quarterback Deshaun Watson pressured his alma mater Clemson to remove the name of a slave owner from campus buildings. And Watt, who has led the Texans onto the field waving an American flag, clapped back against a Twitter follower who said Watt would never disrespect the flag by taking a knee. Watt said, "If you still think it's about disrespecting the flag or our military, you clearly haven't been listening."
This is a bold and positive turn for the team. Only three years ago, Texans owner Bob McNair said the NFL needed to prohibit players from kneeling during the anthem. McNair, who has since passed away, told other owners that the NFL "can't have the inmates running the prison." That is not how the expression goes. His choice of words, referring to players as "inmates" and the league as "the prison," was revealing, however. How far this team has come.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has apologized for his comment, "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the American flag." As Watt says, Brees has been listening. Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield promises that he "absolutely" will kneel for the anthem this season. He has been listening, too.
With NFL commissioner Roger Goodell now supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, what now for quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was the first player to kneel for the anthem in 2016, and was out of the league one year later? He risked everything for what he believed, lost his job and many millions of dollars, but has never wavered from protesting police brutality against African-Americans. He will be remembered on the right side of history.
Reportedly at least one team has inquired about Kap's services. Wouldn't it be something if the New England Patriots sign the outspoken quarterback and he leads them to the Super Bowl, where the Pats face the Dallas Cowboys, owned by the suddenly silent Jerry Jones? That wouldn't be a football game, it'd be the cultural event of the century.
Kaepernick faces long odds of taking an NFL field (again), taking a knee (again) and taking his team to the Super Bowl (again). Been there, done all three. But Kaepernick hasn't thrown a pass that counted in four years. Even premiere athletes rarely come back from extended time away and achieve their former success. There have been exceptions, however:
Ted Williams volunteered for military duty during World War II and the Korean conflict and missed five years of his prime with the Red Sox. He returned to baseball and completed his legendary Hall of Fame career.
Muhammad Ali was banned from boxing for 3-1/2 years after he refused induction into the Army, but came back to re-capture the heavyweight title.
Michael Jordan helped the Chicago Bulls win three NBA titles, left to fulfill a dream of playing baseball, and returned for three more basketball championships.
Kaepernick, while banished for years, just might catch lightning in a bottle. He has exquisite skills, is a proven winner, and continued to work out while in exile. If anybody can … here's hoping.