Brian Flores, The NFL and a History of Racism

On February 2, former Miami Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores launched a class-action lawsuit against the National Football League, the Denver Broncos, the Miami Dolphins, and the New York Giants for the presence of systemic racism and racial discrimination in hiring practices. As greater coverage of Flores’ lawsuit will occur, it is worth discussing the NFL’s complex history of racism and the validity of Flores’ accusations.

Brian Flores coached three seasons with the Miami Dolphins, finishing with a total record of 24-25 and one ten-win season – hardly a laughable coaching career. But, in a shocking move to the NFL community, the Dolphins chose to fire Flores – even after he finished the year 7-2 in his last nine games.

The lawsuit alleges racist hiring practices from all of the previously mentioned organizations. With his most recent team, the Miami Dolphins, Flores argues that team owner Stephen Ross offered to pay him $100,000 for each game that he lost. As for his experience with the Denver Broncos, Flores alleges that General Manager John Elway appeared hungover during Flores’ interview and did not regard him as a serious candidate before the selection of Vic Fangio – a white coach. Finally, with the most recent case of the New York Giants, texts from Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick support Flores’ claim that the Giants had already selected Brian Daboll as their next coach, only interviewing Flores to satisfy the NFL’s Rooney Rule.

The NFL implemented the Rooney Rule in 2003 – requiring that teams interview at least two minority candidates for their head coaching position and at least one minority candidate for their offensive and defensive coordinator roles to help resolve issues of racist hiring practices. Unsurprisingly, teams have adopted egregious measures to get around the rule; most notably, the Cleveland Browns touting the idea of hiring former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2018. While the Rooney Rule functions as a step in reforming the NFL’s proclivity for hiring white coaches and staff, it is far from sufficient with the occurrence of sham interviews of minority candidates and endless loopholes.

The firing and general disdain for Flores within the organization represents a greater trend of racial bias in the hiring and firing practices of NFL head coaches. For example, the former Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell. Caldwell was the first coach in the Lions’ history to finish with a winning record; the team ended both 2016 and 2017 at 9-7. The firing of a winning head coach is extremely rare – especially given the lack of serious talent on the team and Caldwell’s short tenure. The various factors concerning Caldwell’s unconventional firing suggest the decision is rooted in racial discrimination. 

This same pattern follows with the lack of opportunity for the Kansas City Chiefs’ Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy. The Chiefs have functioned as one of the best offenses in the NFL for the entirety of Bieniemy’s tenure, but he is yet to be considered for a more prestigious position. Moreover, Andy Reid, the Chief’s head coach, has stated that he is “disappointed that Bieniemy is not a Head Coach.”

This discussion arises amidst the resignation of former Las Vegas Raiders Head Coach John Gruden following the emergence of racist remarks. Moreover, former Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer hired Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Doyle who faced numerous accusations of racist behavior during his time at the University of Iowa. Those who continue to deny the past and present discrimination prevalent in the National Football League are willfully ignorant.

In the NFL, 68.7% of players are black, yet there is only one black head coach among the 32 possible head coaching positions. The league has plastered team helmets with the words ‘Stop Hate’ and endzones with ‘End Racism,’ yet refuses to enact any of the necessary systemic changes to truly aid black players and coaches. It is likely, if not guaranteed, that the lawsuit will result in little change but the end of Flores’ coaching career. But one can hope that the Flores decision can be a concrete step towards exposing the systemic racism prevalent throughout the NFL and enacting serious, progressive change.