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Lack of Leadership at the Asylum

Last week, the owner of the Houston Texans of the NFL made a statement that sparked a whole new level of ire among those on the team and beyond.

“We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” Bob McNair said.

While not completely ignoring the fact that the actual phrase replaces the word “prison” with “asylum,” McNair showed a complete ignorance of the world going on around him. The NFL has been going through one of its rougher seasons, in large part due to the controversy surrounding the national anthem.

For those who haven’t been paying attention to the news, Colin Kaepernick began a trend among professional athletes to kneel during the national anthem in an effort to protest the wrongful killing of innocent black men by law enforcement officials. Since then, the protests have taken on a more widespread task of tackling all social injustices.

The protests have had an adverse effect on the nation, presumably with McNair falling on the side that seems to embrace standing for the flag more so than having compassion for innocent human life. But the main issue here is that he seemed completely indifferent to what was going on around him when he made his statement. At a time when black men have millions of examples of being treated wrongfully by the criminal justice system, McNair made a statement that referred to his players as “inmates.”

McNair may just be ignorant or senile but his words make him come across as racist. And from a PR perspective, that is a nightmare. It is too easy to assume he isn’t a racist but if it turns out he is, then it makes the statements even more horrendous. The NFL didn’t appreciate what he said and his players responded by showing almost complete unity in kneeling during the national anthem.

I bring all this up because it does reflect the need to think before you speak, which is a specialty of PR practitioners throughout the nation. I’ve dealt with dozens of clients who wanted to say

something publicly that I insisted was best kept to themselves. It’s a reality of the industry.

You may agree with McNair. You may not feel that his statement was that bad. But what I can tell you is that the nation as a whole is not feeling good about his words – the NFL and the players certainly didn’t like what he said – and it is a good idea to keep those comments to yourself. As a PR person, I can assure you that your words will also come back to haunt you.

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