Houston Texans founder and owner Robert McNair died Friday in Houston after battling both leukemia and squamous cell carcinoma. He was 81.
McNair died surrounded by his family, including his wife, Janice, the team announced. Although the team did not release his official cause of death, he was said to have passed “peacefully.”
He’s the third NFL owner to die this year. Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen died in October and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson died in March.
“He was a very caring, thoughtful and passionate individual,” coach Bill O’Brien said in a statement. “As much as he cared about winning, I think the thing I will remember most about Mr. McNair is the way he cared about the players.”
McNair served as senior chairman and CEO of the team and was known as the man who brought the NFL back to Houston.
McNair left a lasting mark on the NFL community after bringing football back to Houston in 1998 when he formed Houston NFL Holdings. The following year he was given the 32nd NFL franchise and the team played their first season in 2002.
“He was the reason professional football returned to Houston and he (led) our franchise with a laser focus on honesty, integrity and high character,” team president Jamey Rootes said in a statement. “He was an amazing champion for Houston and worked hard to make sure our city received maximum value from the presence of the Texans and the NFL.”
President Gorge H.W. Bush released a statement on McNair’s passing, calling him one of the “kindest and most generous people anywhere.”
McNair had a long, public battle with cancer. In August 2014 he first spoke about the many treatments he had undergone and revealed that he had grappled with skin care for almost 20 years. McNair said he would continue as CEO but would delegate more to staff.
He continued to attend many games after that pronouncement and was often seen at practice in the shade of a golf cart or talking with various staff members around the facility.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called McNair a “legendary giant” who left the state “better” in the end.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell commended McNair and all of his major accomplishments across almost two decades as an NFL owner.
“His leadership and determination brought the NFL back to Houston, built a magnificent stadium that hosted two Super Bowls, and his beloved Texans are in the midst of another successful season and are again contending for a place in the postseason,” Goodell said in a statement.
“I extend my heartfelt condolences to Janice, their family, the Texans, and the entire Houston community.”
McNair came under fire in 2017 when he said “we can’t have the inmates running the prison” during a meeting of the NFL owners about players who protest social and racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem. McNair issued two apologies after the remarks became public, calling it a “very regretful comment.”
In response, almost all of the Texans kneeled during the anthem before their game against the Seahawks on Oct. 29, 2017, after no one on the team had kneeled before.
He is survived by his wife, four children, 15 grandchildren and two great grandchildren