As reported by ESPN The Magazine, McNair said "we can't have the inmates running the prison" after other owners in the Oct. 18 meeting talked of business concerns surrounding the anthem protests, a day after owners and players met to discuss social reform
"I regret that I used that expression," McNair said in a statement. "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."
NFL executive Troy Vincent told the owners at the meeting that he was offended by McNair's characterization of the players as "inmates," according to the ESPN report. Vincent said during his years of playing in the NFL he had been called every name including the N-word but never felt like an "inmate."
McNair later apologized personally to Vincent, saying his words were not meant to be taken literally, ESPN reported.
The meeting took place a day after 13 current or former players, 11 owners, commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith met in New York to discuss the anthem controversy.
NFL owners and executives have been scrambling to determine the best response to players kneeling during the national anthem this season, a movement started last year by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to denounce police brutality against African-Americans, social injustice and racial inequality. A number of players followed Kaepernick's lead by taking a knee during the anthem last year and this season.
President Donald Trump continued his criticism of the NFL last week following the owners meeting with players to discuss the ongoing national anthem protests.
McNair contributed to Trump's campaign and donated $1 million to Trump's inaugural committee.
Trump's position unified more NFL players to protest racial injustice before or during the anthem. He said during a political rally in Huntsville, Ala., on Sept. 22 that NFL owners should fire the players who knelt during the anthem.
"We're proud of our country. We respect our flag," Trump said to loud applause at the campaign event in Alabama. "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired! He's fired!'"
NFL players who have demonstrated during the national anthem have said they are protesting racial inequality, but not the flag or the anthem itself.
Kaepernick is expected to be invited to the next meeting between owners and players. The meeting is scheduled Tuesday in New York, but there is no confirmation whether Kaepernick will attend.
The 29-year-old Kaepernick, who wants to continue his NFL career after becoming a free agent in March when he opted out of the final season of his contract with the 49ers, reportedly signed a book deal worth more than $1 million with Random House.