A black former National Football League head coach has accused the most popular US sports league of racism and likened its workings to a “plantation” in a discrimination lawsuit filed on Tuesday.
Brian Flores, who was fired last month as coach of the Miami Dolphins, has sued the club as well as the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos and the NFL. He claimed the Giants interviewed him for their head coaching job in a cynical attempt to satisfy a league mandate, known as the Rooney Rule, that requires teams to consider at least one black candidate for such positions.
Based on a text exchange with Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots, Flores determined that the Giants had already settled on another candidate, Brian Daboll, three days before he was due to be interviewed, according to the complaint.
As a result, Flores was forced to sit through a dinner with the Giants’ general manager Joe Schoen knowing the team had already selected Daboll, and then give an extensive interview the following day. He described the process as a sham “that 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”.
The Giants rejected Flores’ claims in a statement on Tuesday, saying they were “pleased and confident with the process that resulted in the hiring of Brian Daboll”.
In a statement, the NFL said the suit was “without merit”, adding: “The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities.”
Flores’ lawsuit will draw scrutiny to the NFL’s failings on race just as it prepares for its marquee event, the Super Bowl, on February 13.
Since Flores’s firing, a league whose players are 70 per cent black has just one black head coach among its 32 clubs in spite of the Rooney Rule’s implementation almost 20 years ago.
“The NFL remains rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of black head coaches, co-ordinators and general managers,” Flores’s suit alleged, accusing the league of a “disingenuous commitment to social equity”.
Black people who managed to become head coaches received worse terms than their white counterparts, he claimed, and were far less likely to win second chances after they were terminated.
Flores likened the league to a slave plantation in the complaint. “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 labour of NFL players, 70 per cent of whom are black,” the complaint stated.
“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.”
The complaint also featured damning allegations against Stephen Ross, the Dolphins’ owner who is chair of The Related Companies, one of the largest US property developers.
Flores claims Ross pressured him to “tank” the Dolphins’ season in 2019 so that the club would be assured the first pick in the upcoming draft of university players. Flores said Ross offered him $100,000 for each game the team lost and became angry when he disobeyed and the Dolphins won.
The Dolphins “vehemently denied” any racial discrimination and said the “implication that we acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect”.
Ross could not immediately be reached for comment. He has positioned himself as a champion of diversity and inclusion, committing $13mn in 2020 to his own philanthropy, Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, to combat racism.
“I started Rise based on the belief that our nation must address the scourge of racism directly to achieve true unity,” he said at the time.
Flores, 40, a former assistant to Belichick, coached the Dolphins for three years before his surprise termination in January, which was attributed to poor communication with the owner and other team executives. The Dolphins had won eight of their last nine games.
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