Could Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL actually bring about change?

On Feb. 1st, the recently fired head coach of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, Brian Flores, sued the league, the Dolphins, the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos for discrimination against his Black identity. 

Flores’ lawsuit alleges that he was treated within the Dolphins organization as someone who was difficult to work with after he refused to accept bribes from the Dolphins owner to lose as many games as possible during the 2019-20 season to improve the team’s draft position. The allegations against the Dolphins owner, Stephen Ross, also include an incident in which Ross pressured Flores to violate NFL tampering rules by recruiting a highly touted and desired quarterback. 

The allegations against the Giants and Broncos are that both teams, New York in 2022 and Denver in 2019, interviewed Flores only so that they would be in compliance with the NFL’s “Rooney Rule”, which requires that teams interview minority candidates for their open positions. The most damning pieces of evidence that support the lawsuit’s allegations are text messages from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick that revealed to Flores that the Giants had already decided who their next head coach would be before they had an interview scheduled with him. Flores was set to be interviewed on Jan. 27th, but by the start of that week, the Giants had already decided on who their head coach would be. The interview with Flores was a complete sham organized only to satisfy the Rooney Rule.

The major problem that is the lack of minority representation in the NFL can be seen with a glance at the league wide coaching landscape. As the final open head coaching positions are filled, the 2022-2023 season is set to start with only two black head coaches.

In his pursuit of change, Flores has knowingly risked ever coaching in the NFL again. Prior to the lawsuit, Flores was likely to be hired as a head coach by another organization, but his newly taken stance could subject him to the treatment that the NFL gives to those who challenge it. When Colin Kaepernick chose to use his platform as an NFL quarterback to protest racial inequality, he quickly found himself out of a job. Any argument that Kaepernick did not receive another contract to play quarterback in the NFL after beginning his protests strictly because of his play is laughable. The same goes for any reasoning that says that Flores was not hired in the most recent hiring cycle because of his abilities as a coach. Flores produced consecutive winning seasons in Miami for the first time since 2003; it is hard to find a head coach more proven than that available for hire. 

But Flores accepts this reality and is willing to live with its consequences as he focuses on something bigger than winning football games. He may not go down in history as an accomplished and decorated coach, but he may go down as the one who started to turn the tide for minority coaches in the NFL and empowered a future generation of great minority coaches. 

Such is the question that an analysis of his decision and stance should consider. Could Flores actually manage to incite change? Or will the NFL weather his allegations without having to reform its hiring processes? Will Flores’ potential martyrdom of his professional career be done in vain as far as the NFL actually changing is concerned? 

I would argue that Flores should have optimism, albeit a cautious one, about the potential that the movement he is attempting to start has. The NFL has had a terrible year perception wise, even to their standards. One of the league’s most prominent head coaches, Jon Gruden, was outed as a racist and misogynist; the recently renamed Washington Commanders are under investigation for workplace misconduct and sexual harrrasment; and one of the league’s biggest stars, Aaron Rodgers, has taken a fierce stance as anti-vaccine and frankly anti-science.

With all of this considered, couldn’t reform of the Rooney Rule and the addition of new minority hiring initiatives possibly be in the works to avoid the Flores’ lawsuit becoming yet another stain on the NFL’s year? Flores is certainly not the first to reveal problems with the Rooney Rule and the NFL’s treatment of minorities, but maybe, even if it is only done to help restore an image of a league that has been dragged in the mud this year, this is the time the NFL chooses to do what is right.

It is not like Flores is asking for much. The NFL does not have to act in a manner that puts them on one side of an issue and risks isolating a demographic of viewers. All it has to do is ramp up its initiatives for its franchises to treat minorities fairly and view them as more than capable of being great football coaches.

But whatever the NFL decides to do in response to Flores’ lawsuit should not determine the value of his actions. Flores has taken a strong stance that has raised the conversation surrounding the treatment of minority coaches in the NFL to a level that it has never been at before.

Before Flores, the conversation surrounding minority representation in the NFL consisted of other coaches lamenting that their minority counterparts were not being awarded the opportunities they deserved. Often, the dynamic became one of an empowered white coach vouching for their minority colleagues. An example of this is Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid unsuccessfully vouching for his offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy, who has been an integral part of multiple Super Bowl appearances, to be hired as a head coach. However, the conversation was superficial and did not result in any type of change. The lack of minority coaches was ultimately attributed to something that did not have anything more than football decisions behind it. Franchises were supposedly giving all candidates an equal opportunity and all that mattered was who could coach football best. Flores has given evidence that supports the suspicions that there might have been more to it than just football strategy.

Because of Flores, the NFL can no longer deny that it has a minority representation problem. The NFL can either deal with the problem on the front end and make Flores’ stance a fruitful one in its early stages. Or it can deny the allegations and push off change, allowing the bad treatment that Flores experienced continue to be how minority coaches are treated. The second option will only lead to more allegations and lawsuits like Flores’ which only further force the NFL’s hand towards change. 

Either way, it is clear that Brian Flores’ stance and sacrifices can be already deemed impactful and significant. By having the bravery to speak out, Flores has moved the issue of changing how the NFL treats minorities forward to a point that only a coach with the first-hand experiences that he has possibly could.

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