Sweeping Class Action Accuses NFL Teams of Racial Bias Against Blacks

By | February 2, 2022

The recently fired head coach of the Miami Dolphins has filed a scathing lawsuit accusing the National Football League of past and present unfair discrimination against Black coaches, players, owners, managers and retirees.

The complaint, filed in federal court in Manhattan by Brian Flores, who is Black, cites 29 NFL teams as a group along with the Miami Dolphins and two individual teams — the New York Giants and Denver Broncos — that Flores accuses of holding sham head coaching job interviews with him with no intention of actually hiring him as a way to satisfy the NFL’s “Rooney rule” requiring minority candidates be interviewed.

In addition to claiming unfair discrimination in the hiring and retention of Black coaches and team personnel, the complaint alleges discrimination in the NFL’s treatment of Black retired players who suffer from traumatic brain injury, the absence of any Black team owners, the blackballing of former starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the release of former Las Vegas Raiders head coach John Gruden’s racist emails, and an historic reluctance to allow Black players into the league since its initial kickoff in 1920.

In addition to Flores, the suit identifies other Black coaches including Jim Caldwell, Steve Wilks and Kris Richard who it alleges have been subject to sham interviews or unfairly fired.

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The complaint alleges that the “NFL remains rife with racism” even while over the years it has touted rules and made promises to foster diversity. “In fact, the racial discrimination has only been made worse by the NFL’s disingenuous commitment to social equity,” the complaint alleges.

Th NFL responded with a statement asserting that the claims are without merit:

“The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations. Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time. We will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”

According to the suit, despite the fact that 70% of NFL players are Black, only 1 of the NFL’s 32 teams employs a Black head coach; only 4 employ a Black offensive coordinator; only 11 employ a Black defensive coordinator and only 6 employ a Black general manager.

The suit claims that Black coaches, including Flores, are being fired after winning seasons while white coaches get to remain and get second chances.

The suit paints the NFL as a segregated institution:

“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 owners watch the games from atop NFL stadiums in their luxury boxes, while their majority-Black workforce put their bodies on the line every Sunday, taking vicious hits and suffering debilitating injuries to their bodies and their brains while the NFL and its owners reap billions of dollars.”

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The suit is seeking class action status on behalf of all Black head coaches, coordinators and general managers, and Black candidates for those positions.

The suit seeks changes in NFL practices to increase diversity and transparency as well as unspecified economic and punitive damages for players and coaches denied proper compensation and opportunities.

Flores was the head coach of Dolphins for the past three years. After a losing record in his first season as coach, he then led the team to its first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003. He was fired after this season for what the team called “poor collaboration.”

Flores claims his firing was in part due to his unwillingness to go along with the owner and general manager who he said offered to pay him to lose games so the team would qualify for a high draft pick and who pressured him to recruit a prominent quarterback, which would have been a violation of the league’s anti-tampering rules.

Flores claims that just last week he was interviewed by the New York Giants—but only after the team had already decided to hire someone else. The interview was held for “no reason other than for the Giants to demonstrate falsely to the League Commissioner Roger Goodell and the public at large that it was in compliance with the Rooney Rule. ”

Flores says he endured a similar “sham interview” in 2019 with the Denver Broncos.

The Miami Dolphins issued a statement in which the team “vehemently” denied any allegations of racial discrimination and maintained that the “implication that it acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect.”

The New York Giants also released a statement defending its hiring process. “We interviewed an impressive and diverse group of candidates. The fact of the matter is, Brian Flores was in the conversation to be our head coach until the eleventh hour. Ultimately, we hired the individual we felt was most qualified to be our next head coach,” the team’s statement said.

Topics Lawsuits New York

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