NFL head coach files lawsuit to change racist hiring practices

Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a bombshell class-action lawsuit against the National Football League this month. The lawsuit, which alleges systemic discrimination, highlights the NFL’s racist hiring practices, citing two sham job interviews which tokenized Flores.

Flores is demanding that the NFL increase the influence of Black individuals in the hiring process, make objective the process of hiring and firing coaches and front office staff, increase the number of Black coordinators, incentivize hiring and retention of Black coaches and staff, and make transparent the salaries paid to general managers, head coaches and coordinators.

The lawsuit is against the League and all 32 teams. 

NFL ‘managed like a plantation’

Flores, who is in the middle of his own hiring process, is risking two prospective jobs and his career by taking action. Colin Kaepernick for example, is still being black-balled by the same bosses who are mistreating Flores and others. While the quarterback for the 49ers, Kaepernick was labeled a “traitor” by League executives for taking the knee during the national anthem to protest racism. Kaepernick eventually received an apology from NFL commissioner Roger Gooddell, but he remains without a job, as every NFL executive has refused to hire him.  Kaepernick and Eric Reid filed a suit against the NFL in 2019, later settled, that illuminated the collusion carried out by NFL executives to blackball anti-racist players.

Flores filed suit because he sees the issue as bigger than his career and wants to change it. The suit claims the NFL is “managed like a plantation.” Flores elaborated to CBS Morning News on Feb. 2: “We didn’t have to file a lawsuit for the world to know that there’s a problem from a hiring standpoint in regards to minority coaches in the National Football League. The numbers speak for themselves. We filed the lawsuit so that we can create some change.”

Over 65% of players are of Black or African heritage according to the NFL Players Association. Yet, at the end of the 2021 season, there were four Black starting quarterbacks and just one Black head coach. A Black person has never owned an NFL team.

A common thread from Pollard to Flores

The NFL’s history of racism goes back to the early days of professional football. The NFL was founded in 1920. The first Black quarterback and head coach, Fritz Pollard, was kicked out of the league in 1926. For 12 years, from 1934 to 1946, team owners completely banned Black players.

It wasn’t until 2017 that all 32 active NFL teams started at least one Black quarterback. There were no Black head coaches after Pollard until Art Shell was made head coach in 1989. Out of 511 head coaches in NFL history, only 24 are Black. 

The Rooney rule is ‘checking the box

The Rooney Rule was implemented by the League in 2003 to rectify this situation. It requires teams to interview at least one candidate from historically underrepresented groups for top jobs like head coach or general manager. But this rule has become a way for NFL front offices to do just the opposite. They merely “check a box,” as Flores put it, during the hiring process.

Flores was set up for a sham interview with the New York Giants, who had hired Brian Daboll before Flores was even interviewed for the same job. On Jan. 24, Flores was congratulated by New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for getting the job three days before Flores was set to interview for the position. Belichick thought he was messaging Daboll, who had the same first name. 

‘Humiliation, disbelief, anger’

It was then Flores knew something was up. Flores said that he felt “a range of emotions: humiliation, disbelief, anger … To go on what was going to be a sham interview — I was hurt.”

Flores was subjected to a similar sham interview with the Denver Broncos.

“I’m not alone in that,” he told CBS Morning News. These sham interviews don’t exist just in football. Many people of color across the country are recruited for job interviews to fill diversity quotas by people who have no intention of hiring them.

Flores and his lawyers reached out to tell his story to CBS Morning News on Jan. 26, a day before Flores was scheduled to interview for the New York Giants head coaching position. Brian Daboll was announced as the new Giants head coach on Jan. 28. 

“Nothing has changed,” Flores said. “In fact, the racial discrimination has only been made worse by the NFL’s disingenuous commitment to social equity.”

Lead image: Liberation graphic by Zach Farber

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