OT: Brian Flores vs. The NFL

Brian Flores is now a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Photo courtesy of Doug Murray, AP Photo.

KOBE MOSLEY | SPORTS EDITOR | kmosley@butler.edu

If you follow the NFL at all, you know that postseason highlights and potential free-agent signings haven’t been the only point of discussion lately. The hiring and firing process of NFL coaches — something that happens every season — has not treated Black head coaches fairly since the inception of the league. Thanks to Brian Flores, there is an opportunity for it to change forever.

Former head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Flores was one of the two Black head coaches who were fired this offseason. After some time interviewing for open positions — with the same disappointing results — he began to take matters into his own hands to inspire change.

On Feb. 1, Flores filed a 58-page class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three of its teams — the New York Giants, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins. 

In the lawsuit, Flores claims that the NFL performs racially discriminatory practices, benefiting the white owners of the league substantially more than the Black players of the league — even comparing it to a plantation.

Some of the specifics that Flores has in the lawsuit sound insane, but quite honestly, don’t warrant a lot of surprise. He claims that he was given “sham interviews” by the Giants and Broncos. He received a text message from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick days before his interview with the Giants congratulating Flores on receiving the head coaching position. The problem was, Belichick had meant to text Brian Daboll — another former assistant of his. When Flores had interviewed for the Broncos, he alleges that team president of football operations John Elway and team CEO Joe Ellis showed up an hour late to the meeting and conveyed signs that they had been drinking the night before. 

While white front office members not taking a Black candidate seriously isn’t shocking, the news that is surprising was Flores’ allegations about Dolphins team owner Stephen Ross. Allegedly, Ross had offered bribes to Flores to lose games back in 2019. Ross also allegedly tried to get Flores to bypass league violations by recruiting a ‘prominent quarterback.’ When Flores refused to do so, Ross set up an impromptu meeting with said quarterback, leading to Flores storming out of the situation and permanently straining the relationship between the two.

While these allegations are a lot to unpack and digest, African-American junior Trey Mason didn’t have any doubts on if what Flores was alleging is true.

“I 100% believe it,” Mason said. “I think the biggest thing for me is there’s no doubt in my mind that being an African American head coach is one of the toughest jobs to sustain in America … this doesn’t at all surprise me.”

As news spread about the Flores lawsuit, comparisons were immediately made to Colin Kaepernick and his actions to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. No one really had Kaepernick’s back — owners in the NFL definitely made it hard for players to support him — and everyone knows that Kaepernick hasn’t played a down in the NFL since then. Nate Walker, an African-American junior, hopes Flores doesn’t meet the same fate, but knows that it is unfortunately a possibility.

“He’s essentially the martyr in the whole situation,” Walker said. “Like [Tom] Brady said in his series [“The Man in the Arena”] when he was talking about Deflategate, ‘It’s hard to beat 31 billionaires in court.’ Brian Flores just pissed off 32 billionaires … So yes, it’d be great, fantastic if he can find a spot. But I think he knows, just based off some of the things that he’s released, he knows that he’s doing this for the Black coaches down the line more so than he is doing it for his own coaching career.”

At the time that he filed the lawsuit, he was still a candidate for the head coach opening with the Saints, Bears and Texans. He informed them of the actions he was going to take, but still reiterated his commitment to coaching and that it was still a goal of his to lead an organization. While all three organizations passed on Flores, the Texans did hire a Black head coach in former Bears and Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith. Flores, however, still feels that he was passed up on the job because of his lawsuit, per a statement issued by his legal team

It absolutely isn’t fair to Flores, but he knew the risks of what he believed was necessary for change. In an interview he did with ESPN’s Mike Greenberg on “Get Up,” Flores stated, “If I never coach again, but there’s change, then it will have been worth it.”

Luckily for him, he will be able to coach again next season, just in a different role. The Pittsburgh Steelers — one of two teams in the NFL with a Black head coach — hired Flores on Feb. 19 as a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach. The Steelers are known for giving Black coaches opportunities on their staff — there are now nine Black coaches on their payroll.

It remains unclear as to how this lawsuit will play out for Flores and how it will shape the future of Black coaches in the NFL. One thing that is clear though is how much Flores cares about diversity in the NFL. It’s now the NFL’s turn to do the same thing.

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