Brian Flores "We need change. That’s the #1 reason. I know very capable black coaches."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “This is a litigation issue. It’s not an investigation. It’s a litigation matter.”
Less than 2 months ago, NFL coach Brian Flores filed a class action lawsuit against the National Football League, the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos, the Miami Dolphins and unnamed individuals. Brian Flores’ lawsuit alleges racist and discriminatory hiring practices and that his former employer, the Miami Dolphins, offered to pay him a $100,000 bonus per game to lose on purpose so the franchise could garner better draft picks (to which Flores states he refused to do). This week, news came that 2 more coaches will join Flores’ lawsuit on April 8, and that two more teams and their owners will be implicated. The NFL will be represented by former U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, who served under President Barack Obama.
In regards to Brian Flores’ lawsuit, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a press conference, “This is a litigation issue. It’s not an investigation. It’s a litigation matter.” (Currently there is no timetable for the investigation into Flores’ allegations.) Goodell went on to say, “I’m focused on what do we do to try to understand the issues Brian has raised that we all know.”
On Monday, the NFL announced the creation of a Diversity Advisory Committee:
Also on Monday, ESPN reported “all 32 NFL teams will hire a minority offensive assistant coach for the 2022 season, part of a series of policy enhancements..to address the league's ongoing diversity efforts.” This is in addition to, not in lieu of, the Rooney Rule, and it does not directly address the issues raised in Flores’ lawsuit.
The Rooney Rule was implemented in 2003 in response to the lack of diversity in league offices and on coaching staffs. The rule states:
Every NFL team is required to interview at least 2 diverse candidates from the Career Development Advisory Panel list
Every NFL team must also conduct an in-person interview with at least 1 external minority candidate for any GM or head coaching interview.
The intended goal according to NFL.com:
Through hiring best practices, the Rooney Rule aims to increase the number of minorities hired in head coach, general manager, and executive positions. This diversity enriches the game and creates a more effective, quality organization from top to bottom.
Since the rule has been implemented, there have been 129 head coaching vacancies and only 15 black candidates were hired for those positions.
Two of the more prominent black head coaching candidates today are Brian Flores and Eric Bieniemy. Kansas City Coach Bieniemy was hired by his former Philadelphia Eagles boss Andy Reid in 2013 to be the running backs coach for the Chiefs. Five years later, Eric was promoted to offensive coordinator and in his first season led the Chiefs to be 1st in the league in yards/game and points scored. He did such a fantastic job that their season point total was 3rd highest in league history. Since being named offensive coordinator, the Chiefs have appeared in 4 AFC Championship games, 2 Super Bowls and won it all in 2019. Like Brian Flores, Eric Bieniemy has been interviewed for multiple head coaching positions yet received no offers. It’s unknown if Eric Bieniemy will be one of the two new plaintiffs to join Brian Flores’ lawsuit, but reread those list of accomplishments. What other candidate could begin to compare? It should also be noted that in an era when sports media cannot stop talking about team culture, the Chiefs players have publicly stated they love playing for Eric Bieniemy.
Brian Flores upon being fired by the Miami Dolphins was interviewed by several teams, most notably the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants. Flores claims Denver Broncos President of Football Operations John Elway arrived late and hungover to his interview. And his lawsuit details texts from his former New England Patriots coach, Bill Belichick, in which Bill mistakenly congratulated Brian on getting the Giants head coaching job 3 days before Flores’ interview. Belichick thought he was texting Brian Daboll, who was indeed hired for the Giants head coaching job.
“Sorry – I fucked this up. I double checked and misread the text. I think they are naming Brian Daboll. I’m sorry about that. BB.”
Brian Flores appeared on ESPN’s Get Up morning show the day after filing the lawsuit, and spoke about why he bothered to still interview with the Giants after the text exchange with Bill Belichick:
Host Mike Greenburg: And so coach, I’m sure there are many watching who will wonder why did you go on the interview at all. If you felt it was a sham, as you suggested in the lawsuit, why did you go?
Brian Flores: Because I believe that, you know, innately people are good and are going to do the right thing. And there is no way to allow them the opportunity to do the right thing or at least make it a fair situation unless I went there and showed them I am qualified, I am a leader of men, that I am passionate about coaching and building relationships and I’m gifted to coach. I am. I know that. I wanted to show them that. I think they saw that in the interview.
On August 26, 2016, Colin Kaepernick started to peacefully protest the National Anthem. In September of that year, Commissioner Goodell said “I don't necessarily agree with what he is doing. I support our players when they want to see change in society, and we don't live in a perfect society. On the other hand, we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL. I personally believe very strongly in that." Then we as a nation all became aware of the protest.
By the following year, Kaepernick no longer played in the league and it was understood that he was being blackballed. Many, many lesser qualified quarterbacks and backup quarterbacks got jobs while Kaepernick could not. While so many teams claimed to value winning above all else, only one franchise reportedly reached out to Kaepernick but did not make an offer.
Late 2017, Kaepernick filed a grievance against NFL owners for collusion, which was settled less than 18 months later for under $10 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Despite the incredible burden Kaepernick put on his shoulders to advance racial equality, he kept in shape ready to play whenever the call came.
In November 2019, the NFL arranged for teams to view Kaepernick work out and with seemingly very little consideration for Kaepernick given he only received a few days notice. On the day of the workout, Colin spoke with such positivity and not an ounce of bitterness towards anyone:
Colin Kaepernick received no offers and no longer plays in the NFL. After the George Floyd protests, Commissioner Goodell released a video:
He did not mention Colin Kaepernick.
All of this transpired before Brian Flores decided to sue the league and 3 NFL teams. When he filed his lawsuit, Flores still had 2 more head coaching interviews remaining with the New Orleans Saints and the Houston Texans. He could have waited until all the interviews were completed to see if he would receive a head coaching job, but instead he acted on principle after he firmly believed he put forward a good faith effort and did not receive one in response. This coming season, Flores will be the senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers under a rare minority head coach Mike Tomlin and owner Art Rooney, son of former Steelers owner Dan Rooney for whom the Rooney rule is named.
While the lawsuit moves through the court system, the underlying issue in the NFL will likely continue to go unchecked.
In Flores’ lawsuit, the NFL is described as:
Racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation. Its 32 owners—none of whom are Black—profit substantially from the labor of NFL players, 70% of whom are Black. The owners watch the games from atop NFL stadiums in their luxury boxes, while their majority-Black workforce put their bodies on the line every Sunday, taking vicious hits and suffering debilitating injuries to their bodies and their brains while the NFL and its owners reap billions of dollars.
For years, many prominent members of the NFL and those in sports media have referred to NFL owners having a plantation mentality. Below is a clip from popular ESPN show PTI, in which co-host and prominent ESPN personality Mike Wilbon uses this phrase (which for those who don’t regularly watch ESPN, this is just one example from nearly 2 years before the Brian Flores lawsuit):
His co-host, Tony Kornheiser, in response to the Brian Flores lawsuit specifically spoke of two issues of fairness: 1) As a business owner, you should be able to hire who you want. 2) There is clear systemic discrimination in the NFL.
Speaking to Democracy Now, former NFL player Donté Stallworth spoke about Flores’ lawsuit and plantation mentality:
Hopefully, at the end of this, Brian Flores can continue his coaching, but we can also see some changes in the NFL and in the Rooney Rule and maybe even revamp them and make more rules. But at the end of the day, Amy, these rules and these regulations are all tied to the owners. The decision-makers are the owners, are the team owners. And the responsibility for the diversity of the NFL essentially lies at the doorstep of these team owners.
As part of the NFL’s expansion of the Rooney Rule, ESPN reports that minority ownership is not required in ownership groups. Yes, the new rules will add more non-white and female members to coaching staffs but in a 32-team league with all white owners, why is the Commissioner not more interested in the investigation into Flores’ claims that would necessitate looking at owners? In a league that has gone all in on sports gambling, the fact that Flores accuses the Miami Dolphins owner of attempting to bribe him to lose is an extraordinary offense that one would think would result in loss of ownership. That all owners on some level are either complicit or woefully uninvolved in head coach hirings should also merit serious investigation. Perhaps Goodell and the league want to see if Loretta Lynch can buy them more time and possibly avoid having to deal with this issue altogether if she wins the case? It’s clear that regardless of how the lawsuit evolves, the NFL can’t keep ignoring the underlying issue and Brian Flores is helping the league, whether they realize it or not, to acknowledge the elephant in the room so it can meaningfully advance racial equality.
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