Brian Flores sues NFL to shake status quo

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From an inspiring Bengals run to the Rams’ comeback NFC championship win, this year’s Super Bowl LVI matchup had no shortage of headlines. All of this is to say, it is rare for sports media to quickly and significantly shift their focus away from America’s biggest sporting event.

Suing three NFL teams on the grounds of racism in their interview processes took the media by storm. Upon a surprising firing from the Miami Dolphins, former head coach Brian Flores sued his former teams, the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants, alleging severe racial disparities between NFL owners, coaches and players.

Filed on the first day of Black History Month, the complaint — which will be amended to include the Houston Texans — has been filed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. It specifically honors Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Jackie Robinson and Mamie Till.

According to the suit, about 70% of the league’s members are Black, who mostly remain under white superiors. The lawsuit also points to several instances where the teams allegedly complied with but lost sight of the meaning behind the Rooney Rule — an NFL policy mandating that minority candidates be considered for coaching and front office positions.

Among these alleged challenges with the Rooney Rule was an instance where the New York Giants interviewed Flores for their head coach vacancy, which would have made him the franchise’s first Black head coach. Flores allegedly received a text from his former employer Bill Belichick congratulating him on getting the job, but later found the messages were intended for Brian Daboll — a white coach who the Giants allegedly decided to hire before interviewing Flores.

In keeping with the NFL’s alleged practice of interviewing minority candidates with no intent of hiring, the lawsuit claims Flores was interviewed by the Denver Broncos in 2019 for the same reason.

In the suit, Flores also alleged that Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross set up an illegal meeting between him and a prominent free agent quarterback. Upon declining to attend, Flores alleged in the suit that he was treated with disdain.

The Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos and New York Giants each denied the allegations and declined to provide further comment to The Daily Californian.

As the news of Flores suing the NFL broke, many suspected his career as an NFL coach was over, drawing parallels to the likes of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

While this case has yet to be resolved, I pose the following question: Is any of this anything new? Whether or not Flores is proven 100% right or wrong in the court of law, his speaking out elicits an important conversation that the league has seemingly put off for its entire existence.

The reality is that the NFL is run by 30 white owners, who sit in an expensive booth to watch a 32-team league which has only two Black head coaches but is made up of 70% Black players. As Flores’ lawsuit also highlights, the NFL took the position of “race-norming” up until 2021 when making settlements for retired players with injuries.

Despite the work of civil rights activists, remnants of Jim-Crow-era policies linger to this day. From unjust zoning laws to voter suppression, harmful policies and practices often exacerbate racial inequality. The Flores lawsuit is an opportunity for the NFL, which has talked a big game on social justice, to prove that it is not a tool for racial inequality.

AJ Alany covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].