A few weeks ago, the NFL world was sent into a tailspin when NFL coach Brian Flores filed a 58-page lawsuit against the NFL and three of its teams, alleging discrimination and racism in their hiring processes. Flores also claimed that Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered to pay him to lose games to improve the team’s draft position.
In the three weeks since Flores initially filed suit against the NFL, the dust appears to be anything but settled. Flores and his legal team recently sat down with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for an episode (released on Feb. 22) and further intensified the situation by claiming the Dolphins offered Flores to sign an NDA. The Dolphins quickly refuted his claim.
The other two teams directly named in the lawsuit are the New York Giants and Denver Broncos, whom Flores accuses of putting him through “sham” interviews to satisfy the NFL’s Rooney Rule. Flores specifically accused current Denver Broncos general manager and NFL icon John Elway of showing up hungover to his interview for the Broncos’ vacant head coaching position in 2019.
The New York Giants are included in the lawsuit thanks to a misfire from head coaching legend Bill Belichick. Belichick mistakenly texted Flores a congratulatory message on landing the Giants head coaching job, meaning to text the man named head coach, Brian Daboll. The issue with Belichick’s seemingly innocent mistake: Flores had not yet interviewed for the position, which suggests the Giants had decided before sitting down with him.
The Giants publicly denied the allegations despite the damning evidence provided by Flores’ legal team, claiming that Flores was in solid contention for their head coaching position until the “eleventh hour.”
Regardless of which version of events is proven true in court, Flores has effectively shined a light on the racism present within the coaching ranks of the NFL and forced the issue to the forefront of conversation, something that was long overdue. Although over 70% of the NFL’s players are Black, this is not reflected among its head coaches; the recent hiring of Lovie Smith brings the total of Black head coaches to just two.
For a point of reference, let’s take a look at the NBA. Like in the NFL, 70% of the NBA’s players are Black. This season, the NBA has 14 Black head coaches out of 30, compared to just two of 30 for the NFL. The NBA has even accomplished meaningful diversity within its coaching ranks without resorting to official measures to ensure its existence.
Meanwhile, the NFL and its decision-makers have successfully circumvented a rule specifically implemented to improve the diversity in its coaching ranks and have used it to further discriminate against minority candidates.
Let’s talk about the Rooney Rule. Implemented in 2003 after the firing of Black head coaches Tony Dungy and Dennis Green, the Rooney Rule was designed to promote increased diversity among coaches and front offices in the NFL by requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate with every new hire. The NFL recently upgraded its requirements in 2020, and teams must now interview two minority candidates rather than one.
After two Black head coaches were fired under questionable circumstances in 2003, the NFL and its advisory committee set out to mitigate the diversity problem by effectively requiring its teams to abide by an interview quota for minorities. The measure has proven to be wildly ineffective in the almost two decades since its implementation: There were three Black head coaches in the NFL in 2003, and only two now.
It isn’t hard to see why the Rooney Rule is a failed solution to the diversity problem the NFL itself has created. Interview quotas don’t make those within NFL front offices suddenly realize that Black people are equally capable of performing these jobs as their white counterparts. Merely requiring teams to interview candidates doesn’t ensure that diversity is even achieved when the actual hire is made.
Think back to the NBA and its aforementioned success with proper representation of its Black players and coaches; it wasn’t always this way. Achieving genuine diversity in a league predominantly owned by white men isn’t always linear. Just last season, only seven of its 30 head coaching positions were held by Black men. Fast forward one year later — with no Rooney Rule or equivalent — seven of eight available positions were awarded to Black men, giving the NBA 14 Black head coaches in total.
Besides, none of the Rooney Rule’s requirements do anything to protect a coach from prejudicial treatment once he is hired, which is almost unbelievable considering what prompted the rule’s establishment. As mentioned earlier, the NFL adopted the Rooney Rule after a pair of Black coaches were unfairly fired, Tony Dungy after posting a winning record and Dennis Green after his first losing season in 10 years.
Predictably, the NFL finds itself in a similar situation with Brian Flores nearly 20 years later. Despite winning nine games last season and being revered as one of the best defensive minds to stem from the Belichick coaching tree, Flores was summarily fired by the Dolphins and failed to secure another head coaching job before suing the NFL.
In this writer’s opinion, the NFL has seen zero diversity progress among its coaches because it has no interest in race relations on any level, even amid its players. By now it has been accepted. As recently as five years ago, Colin Kaepernick enraged owners and was subsequently blackballed from the league after fueling the movement for players to protest racial injustices by taking a knee during the national anthem. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell later apologized and said he wished the league had “listened” to Kaepernick sooner.
Regardless, if the league is comfortable with excommunicating a player that plays at its highest-paid position for something as benign as kneeling for racial equality, why should we expect them to have much more respect for its coaches?
We don’t. However, the lawsuit filed by Brian Flores at least brought the issue of racism among NFL coaches into the public consciousness.