The single most popular sports event in the U.S., amateur or professional, is the annual Super Bowl, where the National Football Conference winners play the American Football Conference winners to vie for the National Football League championship. On Feb. 13, the NFC’s Los Angeles Rams and the AFC’s Cincinnati Bengals will be competing in the Super Bowl, where it is estimated that at least 100 million viewers will be watching inside the U.S. alone.
The NFL may still host this popular sports event, but undoubtedly many people will have on their minds the most recent developments, which again have tainted the game with systemic racism.
Brian Flores, the 40-year-old recently fired coach of the Miami Dolphins, interrupted all the hoopla about Super Bowl LVI when he filed an unexpected 58-page, class-action lawsuit in a New York City federal court Feb. 1. This lawsuit charges the NFL and three teams in particular, the Dolphins, New York Giants and Denver Broncos, with racial discrimination in hiring practices, mainly the gross lack of hiring of Black head coaches.
The preliminary statement of the lawsuit reads in part: “As this Class Action Complaint is filed on the first day of Black History Month, we honor the brave leaders that fought so hard to help break down the racial barriers of injustice. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Jackie Robinson, Mamie Till, just to name a few.
“As described in this Class Action Complaint, the NFL remains rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of Black Head Coaches, Coordinators and General Managers. Rules have been implemented, promises made — but nothing has changed. In fact, the racial discrimination has only been made worse by the NFL’s disingenuous commitment to social equity.”
The NFL is 70% Black players, but as of today has only one Black head coach, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Out of all the offensive coordinators for each team, who are singled out the most for head coaching jobs, only four are Black. Of the 32 billionaire NFL owners, all are white except for Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, who is Pakistani-American. It is the owners who have the final say of who gets hired and fired from any coaching or front-office position.
Flores, a person of Honduran and African descent, was fired Jan. 10 from the Dolphins after coaching two winning seasons. In the lawsuit Flores alleges that the billionaire owner of the Dolphins, Stephen Ross, tried to bribe him with $100,000 for each game he purposely lost to gain lucrative draft picks. This maneuver, known as “tanking,” is supposedly illegal, so teams must carry it out discreetly. Teams that have the worst losing records are given the first choice to pick the most promising rookie/players from colleges and universities. Flores says his refusal to tank eventually led to his dismissal. As of Feb. 7, the Dolphins hired Mike McDaniel, whose father is Black, as the new head coach.
Flores also accuses the Giants of violating the Rooney Rule, implemented in 2003, which states that coaches of color are guaranteed to have an in-person interview for general manager or head coaching vacancies. These interviews don’t automatically lead to being hired.
Flores, who was scheduled to be interviewed by the Giants two weeks after his firing, accidentally found out by a text message that the job had already been filled by a white coach without his knowledge.
Flores alleges that the owners of the Broncos showed up late for his 2019 interview in a “disheveled” manner and appeared to have been inebriated from drinking the night before, which Flores viewed as a slight to his being taken seriously for the job.
The response to the lawsuit was met immediately by dismissive denials from the individual teams named in the complaint, without any hint of initial willingness to look further into the allegations.
Even Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, issued a Feb. 5 statement that reads in part: “We have made significant efforts to promote diversity and adopted numerous policies and programs, which have produced positive change in many areas; however, we must acknowledge that particularly with respect to head coaches, the results have been unacceptable. We will reevaluate and examine all policies, guidelines and initiatives relating to diversity, equity and inclusion, including as they relate to gender. We are retaining outside experts to assist in this review and will also solicit input from current and former players and coaches, advocates and other authorities in this area.” (sports.yahoo.com)
But this calls into question why the NFL commissioner, the top position, is filled by a white person in a league that is overwhelmingly Black.
Flores lawsuit: a legal protest
Colin Kaepernick sued the NFL owners in August 2017 for “blackballing” him from ever being a NFL quarterback, as punishment for protesting police brutality and social injustice by taking a knee before games. There is now a question of whether Flores will ever get a coaching job again.
In a Feb. 1 statement, Flores responded to that question with: “In making the decision to file the class-action complaint today, I understand that I may be risking coaching the game that I love and that has done so much for my family and me. My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come.” (ESPN)
That hope is that the lawsuit will enjoin other Black coaches, who have felt ignored and pushed aside for opportunities to be a head coach, and former Black coaches who were pressured to compromise their principles by white owners. Hue Jackson, the Black former head coach of the Cleveland Browns, spoke openly on how he felt he was incentivized to tank by his former team’s owner. Marvin Lewis, a former Bengals coach, stated that he was offered a “sham” head coaching job in 2002 with the Carolina Panthers, after they had already decided to hire John Fox, a white coach, for the job.
The Flores lawsuit is a legal anti-racist protest shedding light once again on the predominant white-supremacist U.S. society, coupled with the exploitative relationship between bosses and workers. To quote again from the lawsuit: “In certain critical ways, the NFL is 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 fallout from this explosive lawsuit has just begun.