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Racial Discrimination in the NFL

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

By Laura Blanco

On Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the National Football League (NFL), the New York Football Giants, the Miami Dolphins, and the Denver Broncos for racial discrimination in their hiring processes.

Flores was fired from the Dolphins on Jan. 10 after coaching three seasons. He led the team in two back-to-back winning seasons in 2020 and 2021, which had not been done since 2003, coached the team in winning eight of their last nine games after losing seven straight games, and had a 24-25 overall record.

Owner of the Dolphins, Stephen Ross, ultimately decided to part ways with Flores and left several people shocked, including NBC 6 Sports Anchor and Reporter Ruthie Polinsky and WSVN Lead Sports Anchor Josh Moser.

“It really felt like it was a premature decision to make a change at the head coaching position,” said Polinsky. “And then I guess, when the lawsuit came out, the shock really set in.”

Moser found the timing of the lawsuit interesting considering Flores was a finalist for a head coaching position with multiple teams. Still, Moser is not surprised by the lawsuit because of the NFL history.

“Obviously, covering the NFL for multiple years, you hear players and coaches talk about what he alleges,” said Moser.

Polinsky agreed that discrimination in the NFL is not news.

“What was surprising was that Brian Flores decided to stand up and take action,” Polinsky said.

TJ Smith, a sophomore studying pre-law and a basketball player, was not surprised by Flores’ allegations of racial discrimination. As a football fan, he has noticed the lack of Black representation on the sidelines and in front offices, even though 70 percent of the League’s players are Black.

Two allegations from the lawsuit have had many people talking. First, Ross allegedly offered Flores $100,000 per game lost in 2019. He also tried to set Flores up to recruit a specific quarterback, which is a violation of League tampering rules.

Flores also alleges that the Giants had already decided on a head coach prior to interviewing him for the position. He received a text from New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick, mistakenly congratulating Flores for getting the job, even though he had not yet been interviewed.

Belichick meant to send congratulations to Brian Daboll, who was ultimately hired.

Further, in 2019, Flores interviewed for a head coach position with the Denver Broncos. He alleges that the panel arrived an hour late and the interview was only to comply with the Rooney Rule.

Photo Credit to Wikipedia

The Rooney Rule, advocated for by Pittsburgh Steelers President, Dan Rooney, and approved in December 2002, recommends that NFL teams interview minority candidates for every head coach job available. This rule was later amended to include general manager positions, coordinators, front-office positions, and the assistant head coach position.

The history of Black head coaches in the NFL is complex. Art Shell broke the color barrier in 1989 when he became the first Black head coach for the then Oakland Raiders. Shell was one of five Black head coaches until 2003.

Since the passage of the Rooney Rule, 15 Black head coaches have been hired, with 129 vacancies available in 19 years.

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick is listed in the lawsuit as an example that the NFL has ongoing problems with race. Kaepernick protested societal racial injustice during the 2016 season by kneeling during the national anthem.

Polinsky, Moser, and Smith all agree that Kaepernick was blackballed from the League since he was never signed to another team.

“[Kaepernick and Flores] are both similar in the way that they're both just looking to find equality for Black people in America,” said Smith.

Moser thinks that it is too early to tell if Flores will face a similar result, since he was not hired this coaching cycle.

Still, what comes next is unknown. Among other things, Flores hopes that his lawsuit will increase the number of Black general managers, head coaches, and various other positions in the NFL as well as encourage objectivity in the hiring process.

Most importantly, according to the lawsuit, Flores hopes to “shine a light on the racial injustices that take place inside the NFL.”

In breaking news on Feb. 19, the Steelers organization named Flores as their senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach. The team has promoted diversity in coaching, with Mike Tomlin as the head coach.

Tomlin was the only Black coach in the NFL until Lovie Smith was hired by the Houston Texans this month. While this is not a head coaching position, it is a step in the right direction to get Flores back in the league.

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