Sports

Former NFL Coach Files Lawsuit Alleging Racial Discrimination

Kevin Sethre, staff writer

Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit on Feb. 1 against the NFL, the Dolphins, the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants for discriminatory hiring practices.  Flores, who is Black, was fired by the Dolphins on Jan. 10 despite the team’s late-season charge in which they won eight of their final nine games and narrowly missed the playoffs after starting 1-7.

In the suit, which was filed on the first day of Black History Month, Flores alleges “the NFL remains rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of Black Head Coaches, Coordinators, and General Managers.” The NFL instituted the Rooney Rule, requiring teams to interview at least one minority head coaching candidate for any vacant head coaching position, in 2003, but it does not seem to be working.  

As of the time of this writing, there is only one Black head coach in the league: Mike Tomlin, who has been the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2007. There is also not very much diversity in other coaching and management positions in the league. The suit states that among the 32 NFL teams, only four have a Black offensive coordinator, only eleven have a Black defensive coordinator, only eight have a Black special teams coordinator, only three have a Black quarterback coach, and only six have a Black general manager. These numbers are shockingly low for a league where approximately 70% of the players are Black.

In the suit, Flores says that the Giants had already decided to hire Brian Daboll for their vacant head coaching position three days before they were scheduled to interview him for the job. He found out when New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick mistakenly sent him a congratulatory text that was meant for Daboll.  Flores had not been informed of the decision by the Giants, who planned to still hold the “sham interview” in “an effort to comply with the Rooney Rule.” 

The suit also states that this was not the first time that Flores had been interviewed for the sole purpose of a team being able to comply with the rule.  After the Denver Broncos fired Vance Joseph, a Black head coach, in 2019, Flores was brought in for an interview, but the team’s “then-General Manager, John Elway, President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Ellis and others, showed up an hour late to the interview” looking “completely disheveled, and it was obvious that they had drinking heavily [sic] the night before.”  Vic Fangio, a white man, was eventually hired as the Broncos’ head coach.

Flores says that when he was fired by the Dolphins, “the purported basis for his termination was alleged poor collaboration”, but “the writing had been on the wall since [his] first season” with the team “when he refused his owner’s directive to ‘tank’ for the first pick in the draft.”  He also alleges that he had been pressured by the owner, Stephen Ross, “to recruit a prominent quarterback in violation of League tampering rules” at the end of the 2019 season and that he was “treated with disdain and held out as someone who was noncompliant and difficult to work with” after refusing to do so, which led to him being ostracized and eventually fired.  After he was fired, he was labeled by team ownership as being hard to work with, making it difficult for him to land other jobs in the future.

Less than two hours after the suit emerged, the league released a statement saying that Flores’ claims were “without merit.”