Brian Flores Calls NFL a “Racially Segregated” “Plantation” in Class Action Suit That Asks Court System to Force Change in Hiring Practices

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans
Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The explosive lawsuit filed today by former Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores began by laying out the allegations that he was fired because of his race. Suing under state and federal law for racial discrimination by the NFL, the Giants, the Broncos and the Dolphins, the suit also fanned out to include a broader lawsuit against the entire league. Flores, is suing on behalf of himself but also anyone who chooses to join him and allege they too were fired or not hired in a major NFL coaching or management role because of race. The suit requests class action status, a process that will require at least twenty, maybe more, people to come forward with similar claims and evidence to back it up, in order to be certified.

Without getting into the technicalities of how class action lawsuits get certified, the significance of seeking such certification lends a whole new meaning to this suit. This suit will go way beyond just Brian Flores. We explain below.

Allegations of Discrimination Against Brian Flores

To begin, Flores is alleging that he was discriminated against by multiple teams. Flores laid out allegations that he was fired by the Dolphins not for being non-collaborative but instead because he refused to engage in tampering or fixing of games. He says he was pressured to intentionally tank so that the team could get a first overall draft pick. He accused Dolphins owner Steve Ross of offering to pay him $100,000 per loss so the team could get the first overall draft pick. Flores said Ross also pressured him to meet with a high-profile Quarterback in violation of league tampering rules and when he refused, put him on a yacht with a surprise visit from that prospective player. Flores claims he did not participate in these activities and was labeled difficult to work with and stigmatized as an “angry black man.”

Flores, who is the son of Honduran immigrants, also alleged that the Broncos and Giants staged sham interviews with him, never truly intending to consider him for Head Coaching positions but only interviewing him to make it seem they were complying with the Rooney Rule. The rule requires a certain number of minority candidates be considered for major coaching and managing positions within the League. Flores says that Bill Belichick texted him prior to his interview with the Giants to congratulate him on getting the job, thinking he was Brian Daboll. Despite, learning from Belichick that Daboll was the favorite and had been selected, Flores claims he was forced through the interview process knowing he had no chance. He alleges the Giants interviewed him to pretend to comply with the Rooney Rule. Flores mentions the Broncos brass similarly making him feel he was not a serious candidate by showing up late and allegedly hungover to his head coach interview.

The Bigger Picture

Flores’ larger goal here is to force change in the league’s hiring process. Citing the significance of filing his suit on the first day of Black History Month, and expressly stating he was filing it in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and other civil rights activists, Flores’ primary ask is injunctive relief. He wants a court to compel the league to change its hiring processes in a way that lends not only accountability but external oversight. Among the asks, Flores wants Black individuals involved in hiring decisions, a committee to source Black investors and owners, criteria that makes hiring more objective, full explanations of why people are hired and others are not, funds to train players who want post-career roles in management and much more. In fact, injunctive relief could also come in the form of a court compelling the league to hire Flores and others, or to hire a certain number of diverse candidates every year.

Flores’ explosive allegations go way beyond his own circumstance, this lawsuit is an attack against the NFL model as a whole and Flores’ bold characterization of it as a systemically racist organization.

“In certain critical ways, the NFL is racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation,” Flores’ complaint reads. “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.”

The lawsuit brings up recent controversies that Flores says illustrates his allegations of historical systemic racism including Colin Kaepernick’s collusion suit, the Jon Gruden racist emails and Gruden’s long tenure, and perhaps most significantly the recent allegations of race-norming in the NFL concussion settlement administration. The NFL is attempting to settle those claims now. Essentially, former players claimed that the people in charge of determining eligibility for funds from the concussion settlement categorized black players as cognitively inferior to white players and denied them on the basis that their brain damage was not as bad as they thought, because the players’ baseline was defective to begin with. The astounding claims sent shockwaves through the sports world.

“The NFL took the position that white people simply have better baseline cognitive function than Black people,” Flores’ lawsuit read. “This is the very definition of racism—the assumption that someone is not as smart as another person because of the color of his or her skin. It also perhaps explains why the NFL and its Teams are so loath to hire Black Head Coaches, Coordinators and General Managers (“GMs”), just as for years the League discriminated against Black quarterbacks.”

The lawsuit quotes top NFL executives allegedly “conceding” that there are problems with minority hiring within the league.

“Troy Vincent, the NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations, recently stated with regard to Black Head Coaches: There is a double standard, and we’ve seen that . . . And you talk about the appetite for what’s acceptable. Let’s just go back to . . . Coach Dungy was let go in Tampa Bay after a winning season. . .Coach Wilks, just a few years prior, was let go after one year . . .Coach Caldwell was fired after a winning season in Detroit . . . It is part of the larger challenges that we have. But when you just look over time, it’s over-indexing for men of color. These men have been fired after a winning season. How do you explain that? There is a double standard. I don’t think that that is something that we should shy away from. But that is all part of some of the things that we need to fix in the system. We want to hold everyone to why does one, let’s say, get the benefit of the doubt to be able to build or take bumps and bruises in this process of getting a franchise turned around when others are not afforded that latitude? . . . [W]e’ve seen that in history at the [professional] level.”

The suit also quotes, Jonathan Beane, the NFL’s Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, saying the following:
“Any criticism we get for lack of representation at the GM and head coach positions, we deserve. We see that we’re not where we want to be. We have to do much better. We’re focusing on all roles.”

Flores’ lawsuit is full of shocking statistics of the lack of minority hires historically in the league compared to white hires for the same roles. The complaint also cites a study conducted by former Dream Team lawyer Johnnie Cochran who defended NFL player O.J. Simpson in his infamous murder trial.

“Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., civil rights attorney Cyrus Mehri and labor economist Dr. Janice Madden together produced a detailed report on the NFL’s head-coaching hiring practices entitled “Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunitie,” read Flores’ complaint. “The report analyzed the NFL’s hiring and firing practices over the previous 15 seasons, and the statistics showed evidence of discrimination.”

The lawsuit mentions numerous black coaches who have been fired despite winning seasons or good records or not given opportunities, including Caldwell, Wilks, Kris Richard, David Culley, Eric Bieniemy and others. It claims white coaches are frequently retained despite losing seasons. If the aforementioned coaches and others join the suit and bring their evidence with them, this could be one of the most explosive lawsuits in NFL history.