Former NFL Head Coach Sues the NFL for Inciting Discrimination in its Hiring Practices

David Phan, Sports Editor

Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins’ former head coach filed a lawsuit against the NFL and the history of the NFL and race

Former head coach Brian Flores was fired on Jan. 10 after filing a 58-page class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three of its team inciting discrimination and racism in their hiring practices. Flores was an assistant coach with the New England Patriots from 2008-2018 before taking on the Miami Dolphins head coaching position in 2019. 

“We didn’t need to file a lawsuit to know that there is an issue with hiring and firing practices in the NFL,” Flores stated in an interview on ESPN. 

In 2003, the NFL implemented the Rooney rule that requires all NFL teams with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one minority prospect per hiring cycle. The rule was expanded in 2009 to include general manager positions and anything equivalent to it. 

“This idea that that sports [are], not a neutral space, but rather reflects very much [of] what we see in terms of broader systemic institutional inequalities that we find in a society that are often race-based,” said Dr. Matthew Atencio, professor of Sport, Racism & Ethnicity at California State University, East Bay. 

When asked about the reasoning behind his lawsuit filing and knowingly putting his coaching career in jeopardy when filling, Flores stated, “At the end of the day, we need change.” 

It has been stated that the Rooney rule didn’t increase diversity in the NFL, “The Rooney rule didn’t work, we now have fewer black head coaches in the NFL than when the Rooney rule started,” Douglas Wigdor, Flores’ attorney, noted. 

Currently, there are three minority head coaches in the NFL, coach Mike McDaniels of the Miami Dolphins, and Lovie Smith of the Houston Texans, and Mike Tomlin with the Pittsburgh Steelers who is the only one to be with their respective organizations for more than two years.

“When the rubber hits the road, what is actually going to go down, despite all this awareness, what is actually going to change,” Atencio emphasized. Flores is being dubbed as the Rosa Parks of the NFL.

“Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time. We will defend against these claims, which are without merit,” the NFL’s statement responding to Flores’ accusations.

The NFL has had long standing issues with race and handling of those issues. During the national anthem in a 2016 preseason game, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem sparking awareness towards racial inequality. 

“Ultimately, it is something that I want to bring awareness to and make people realize what is going on in our [society],” Kaepernick emphasized in a 2016 postgame interview. 

Kaepernick took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013 and came up one play short of being a Super Bowl champion. Later in 2016, he was cut from the 49ers and has been dismissed from other NFL teams since. 

In other instances, Riley Cooper, who was with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, was caught on video saying a racial slur at a music concert in 2013. Cooper was fined by the Eagles but was not suspended or cut from the team. Cooper did face repercussions in 2015 where he abruptly retired from his NFL career.

“I owe an apology to the fans and to this community. I am so ashamed, but there are no excuses. What I did was wrong and I will accept the consequences.” Cooper stated.

The protest sparked by Kaepernick and the conversation brought up by Flores has spearheaded a conversation towards fixing race in the NFL and sports world as a whole. Members of the NBA and the WNBA are beginning to focus on the racial inequities in these big corporations.  

“We’d like to see more progress in terms of people of color who know the game because they’ve obviously lived it and experienced it to a high degree, but then getting into those kinds of leadership positions,” Atencio emphasized. 

The sports world is a microcosm of society. The handling of race inside any organization is a representation of what goes on out in the real world. Athletes and coaches are utilizing their platforms for racial equity and social justice to shine a light on long standing issues and working to break the cycle and start anew.