Houston Texans deny report that they are avoiding players who protest anthem

The team disputed a report that it would not sign players who have kneeled during the national anthem.

The Houston Texans issued a statement Monday night denying a report that they "aren't interested in" signing players who have kneeled during the national anthem.

Citing conversations with two anonymous agents, The Houston Chronicle reported Saturday that while "there is no directive within the organization," it is understood that the Texans are not considering free agents who have participated in the protests, or draft prospects who would be likely to do so.

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The Texans blasted that report as "categorically false and without merit."

"A recent report that suggests the Houston Texans would not sign a player who has protested in support of social justice issues is categorically false and without merit," the team said in a statement. "The Texans ownership, coaching, personnel and executive staff sign and hire employees based on talent, character and fit within our organization."

Columnist Jerome Solomon, who authored The Chronicle's story, also wrote that Texans owner Bob McNair has been "racially tone deaf often enough" that it has fostered a belief that race plays a role in how the organization operates.

"There are many who believe if McNair could field a team with all-white, all-conforming all-pro talent, he would," Solomon wrote.

McNair apologized in late October for comments he made at the NFL owners meetings that were later reported by ESPN. In a discussion about players who were protesting during the national anthem, McNair said "we can’t have the inmates running the prison," according to the network.

In response to the Texans' statement and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross - who stepped back from comments that he would make his players stand for the anthem - the NFL Players Association released a statement Tuesday that reads in part:

"... During this past season, we received assurances from both commissioner Roger Goodell, and the chairman of the management council, John Mara, that the right of players to demonstrate would be protected. We are glad that both the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins have clarified their positions ... "

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Dozens of NFL players regularly took a knee during the national anthem last season, continuing demonstrations that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began in 2016. The protests have typically been described as a means of drawing attention to racial inequality and police brutality in the United States, though critics — including President Donald Trump — have ripped the demonstrations as unpatriotic and disrespectful to the military.

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.