“I live my life by dealing in truth,” said Brian Flores.
The former head coach of the Miami Dolphins recently shook the NFL by filing a class-action lawsuit against the league and its teams, accusing them of what he refers to as “sham interviews,” improperly recruiting players and tanking games for cash.
The lawsuit comes after Flores, who led the Dolphins to back-to-back winning seasons, the first time the Dolphins managed consecutive winning campaigns since 2003, was fired following his third year at the coaching helm in Miami.
The move by the Dolphins was a surprise to most football fans and NFL insiders. At the time Flores was fired, in a league where 70 percent of its players are African-American, Mike Tomlin, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was the only black head coach in the league. 29 percent of NFL assistant coaches are black.
When the 2021 season began, David Culley, Ron Rivera, Robert Saleh, Tomlin, and Flores were minority head coaches in the league. Culley was fired after one season as the Houston Texans head coach.
As a black man, who has been a huge football fan my entire life, the black head coach debate has been a consistent one for as long as I can remember. Even back in the ’70s, I would wonder why none of the head coaches were black and why only a few black assistant coaches were scattered around the league. As I got older, I realized. The answer was obvious. The team owners were older white men who had little in common with people of color. These owners had very few blacks or other minorities in leadership positions on and off the field.
50 years later, has the storyline changed much?
The numbers say there has been a positive change, but it has been painstakingly slow. And that’s where the Brian Flores case comes into focus.
When the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule 20 years ago, requiring NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior leadership positions, the belief was more minorities would have the opportunity to be face-to-face with team owners and general managers to prove they could “win the interview” like their white colleagues. Flores’ lawsuit against the league addresses his experience with the Rooney Rule and the hiring process when he was scheduled to interview for the New York Giants head coaching position. A few days before that interview, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick mistakenly sent Flores a text congratulating him on getting the job. When a confused Flores asked Belichick if he was talking to Brian Flores or Buffalo Bills assistant coach Brian Daboll, Belichick apologized and said the text was directed to Brian Daboll.
Oops! Wrong Brian.
Three days later, Flores was interviewed for the Giants’ vacant head coach position knowing he wasn’t being considered. As Flores later stated, “The Giants used me to check a box. It was a sham interview.”
That experience is just one disturbing aspect of the lawsuit against the NFL. It includes accusations of Dolphins team owner, Stephen Ross, offering Flores $100,000 per loss in the 2020 season so the team could ensure the first pick of the draft, and another “sham interview” with John Elway and the Denver Broncos.
The NFL quickly denied Flores’ claims in the lawsuit.
“Diversity is core to everything we do, and there a few issues on which our club and our internal leadership team spend more time,” it said. “We will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”
As the NFL “defends” against Flores’ claims of racial discrimination by the league, I think of one number and one name; 17 and Josh McCown.
Since the NFL began the Rooney Rule in 2003, only 17 of 129 coaching vacancies have been filled by black and other minority candidates. And for the second consecutive year, former NFL quarterback Josh McCown is one of the favorites to be the head coach of the Houston Texans. That’s the same Josh McCown with no college or professional coaching experience.
However, when he played, some coaches said McCown was like a “coach on the field.” I guess that’s good enough? Just not good enough for the likes of experienced and successful black assistant coaches like Eric Bieniemy, Kris Richard, and Teryl Austin.
And then there’s Jim Caldwell, who led the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs twice, including a Super Bowl appearance in 2009, and twice to the post-season with the Detroit Lions. That’s right, the Lions! He’s still waiting for a chance to be a head coach again.
Some might ask why a team, or the NFL, hasn’t been sued for racial discrimination before? I think the answer is simple. Career suicide.
Just ask Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid what it means to fight the NFL machine.
— by guest columnist Anthony Pittman