On Tuesday, the former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the N.F.L. and its 32 member teams, citing discriminatory hiring practices against Black coaches. He alleges that “the N.F.L. remains rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of Black head coaches, coordinators and general managers.” (In a statement, the N.F.L. said that the league is “deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices.”)
Some of Flores’s allegations were specific to his tenure with the Dolphins as head coach for three years (with two winning seasons) until he was fired last month. He claims that he was let go by the team’s owner, Stephen Ross, in part because he refused to “tank” the 2019 season — he would not purposely lose games to improve the team’s position in the N.F.L. draft. In a statement, Ross called those claims “false, malicious and defamatory.”
Flores also accuses the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants of conducting what he calls “sham” interviews with him to satisfy the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview to at least two external minority applicants for the position of head coach.
In the filing, Flores quoted text messages from the New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick in which he appeared to congratulate Flores on receiving the Giants job — for which he had not yet interviewed. When asked if the text had been meant for then-Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Belichick replied: “I think they are naming Daboll. I’m sorry about that. BB.” The Giants announced the hiring of Daboll on Jan. 28. Flores suggests that based on Belichick’s text messages, he was never a real candidate for the job.
In a statement, the Giants called Flores’s claims “disturbing and simply false,” and the Broncos team president, John Elway, said his allegations were “false and defamatory.” He added, “I took Coach Flores very seriously as a candidate.”
But other Black N.F.L. coaches, including the former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy and the former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, voiced support for Flores and shared their own experiences of what they felt was discrimination in league hiring. Lewis told ESPN that he had an interview with the Carolina Panthers in 2002 but believed that it was a mere formality, that the team fully intended to hire a white coach, John Fox, before speaking to Lewis.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Flores in a piece about how the N.F.L. was failing Black coaches. We spoke on Wednesday about his experience in the league and his lawsuit. What follows is our exchange, edited for clarity and length.
Jane Coaston: What has it been like for you going through this process?
Brian Flores: The outpouring of support has been humbling. I just feel fortunate to have the support from players, coaches, friends. It’s been a tough two days to be quite honest, Jane. It wasn’t an easy decision. There was a lot of back-and-forth with myself, my wife and people that are very close to me. But it was a good decision. I felt I had to make it not just for me but for coaches who will come after me. I’m looking for Black minority coaches to get a fair opportunity at these jobs, as head coaches, as G.M.s, as coordinators. I know so many that are more than capable of leading teams and leading men, not only on the field, but off the field as well. I just felt like this was a time to take a stand for change.
Jane: Can you tell me about the conversations you had with other coaches?
Brian: They talked about their own experiences, sharing stories with me about things that were instances where they felt like they were getting a limited role interview, one that didn’t feel like it was fair and equitable. I think it’s a place of comfort for them to talk to me. Hopefully they will step outside and talk about it publicly, but I understand why they wouldn’t. This is a game we love to coach. We love the relationships. And it’s a living, you know? And if we take a chance and speak out against the unfairness and the injustice in the hiring process and really the firing process, it’s a hard thing to do. But I wasn’t going to be able to live with myself — I was going to have a lot of regrets — if I didn’t speak up right now.
Jane: Are you still up for other coaching jobs? I know you’ve interviewed for multiple positions.
Brian: I’m still in the running for Houston and the New Orleans Saints. I interviewed in both places, and I interviewed well. I would love to lead either one of those teams — do what I love to do — which is coach football and make an impact on young men through the game.
Jane: Do you think that Brian Daboll is a qualified coach?
Brain: He and I were on the same staff at the New England Patriots. I know Brian very well. He’s someone I consider a friend. He’s more than capable. He’s a very good candidate. This isn’t about his candidacy. This is about getting a message saying he was hired before I got an opportunity to interview and showcase my ability as a coach and whether or not I’d be a good candidate.
Jane: You’ve been in the league for a long time. Can you talk about what the N.F.L. has said about wanting to combat discrimination and what has gone wrong?
Brian: As a Black coach in the National Football League, you go in knowing that you’re essentially on a short leash. You have to coach well, you have to play well, you have to win. You’re not going to have as much time to build. You go into it knowing that. Is it fair? No, but that’s part of why we filed the lawsuit, because it shouldn’t be that way. It should be a level playing field. You could have a fluff policy or a fluff rule, but those things don’t really matter. What matters is owners changing their hearts, changing their minds. And if they’re not willing to do that, then my opinion is that we should have new, different owners, because the league is 70 percent Black.
Jane: This lawsuit is meant to send a message to the N.F.L. as well as generate change within the league. What types of pressure do you want to see the N.F.L. put on the owners?
Brian: I do want to force the issue. I want something that’s genuine. I want something that’s sincere. I want something that’s authentic. I want teams to open up and take a harder look at someone who’s Black or a minority. No different than having an open mind about someone who’s white. This is 2022, you know? It really doesn’t have to be that way.
Look, these owners are reasonable. I think they understand, or I’d like to think that they understand. What we’re saying here is there’s got to be a change to being open to people that are different than they are.
You’ve got to be intentional about that. I don’t want to force, “Hey, you have to do this.” I do want to force the intentionality of being open, honest, transparent and getting to know somebody that’s a little bit different than you are.