Well, here we are again. I can’t say I’m surprised; I don’t even think I’m disappointed. Deep down, I knew it was only a matter of time before more of the National Football League’s (NFL) corruption would come to light to prove, yet again, that no matter how many helmets they print “end racism” on, the NFL is, without a doubt, racist. I was hopeful that the next piece I would write about the NFL would be to praise some of my current favorite quarterbacks that have completely changed the game. Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson, I’m talking to you. Unfortunately, another instance of systemic racism in the NFL has been brought to light with a recent lawsuit by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores.
Flores has sued the NFL claiming the organization was racially discriminatory in its head coach hiring process. He alleges that the owner of the Dolphins, University of Michigan’s own Stephen M. Ross, of the Ross School of Business, offered Flores money to purposely lose games in the 2019 season. Having more losses than wins would better the Dolphins’ chances of acquiring a higher draft pick, allowing them to select the best upcoming player for the future of their franchise. However, Flores was focused on having a successful season by winning, not by manipulating the future NFL draft. Every time Flores and his team would win games, the Dolphins’ general manager would express anger towards him, claiming that he was hurting the team. With his commitment to the current success of his team, Flores recorded back-to-back winning seasons with the Dolphins for the first time since 2003. Despite the immense success he brought this organization, on Jan. 10, the Dolphins fired him, on grounds of being considered difficult to work with.
Then, as he began seeking a new job as a head coach, Flores attended interviews with the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos. Flores had a Zoom interview with the Giants and was given a date for an in-person interview in the near future. However, before this interview, he was informed through a text by one of his old colleagues that someone else had received the position. The NFL has a rule called the Rooney Rule, which states that its teams are required to hold an in-person interview with at least one minority or female candidate for a general manager or head coach position. This means they were still required to hold the interview, only for him to find out that someone else was offered the position a day later, implying that the decision had already been finalized before Flores’s interview. Flores states he had a similar experience in interviews with the hiring managers of the Denver Broncos, further alleging that the interviewees arrived an hour late and were hungover.
In addition to his successful seasons with the Dolphins, Flores has had a triumphant coaching career with other NFL teams. As an assistant coach, defensive coordinator and safeties coach for the New England Patriots, he has won four Super Bowl titles. Many of the players he has coached rave about how supportive and compassionate he was to them. His past colleagues have even stated that he is dedicated “to doing things the right way. He never cut corners… He’s always been a guy that’s been level, never too high, never too low. That’s what made him a great player, and that’s what’s making him a great coach.” Flores has an incredible résumé and numerous accolades to his name; having recently been fired from the Dolphins being denied these two head coaching positions is questionable considering the large impact he has had on the organization in his time there and the potential he brings for its future.
The NFL has a long history of racial discrimination against Black coaches. The fact that the Rooney Rule exists just to check a box to say that a marginalized individual was taken into consideration shows its corruption. Flores having been fired because he was labeled difficult to work with, a common way of devaluing Black people in professional settings, shows the NFL’s discriminatory ways. I hope he is given the justice he deserves. The NFL is long overdue in enacting actual systemic change and owning up to its apparent discrimination. But instead of focusing solely on all the ways this institution is corrupt, I want to now call attention to some of the amazing and talented Black coaches in NFL history and present day.
Hue Jackson is a former coach of the Cleveland Browns who had an impressive coaching career. As a testament to this, Jackson won the 2015 NFL Assistant Coach of the Year award and has played an integral role in the success of franchises he has been a part of. Former colleagues praise him for his industrious mentality and overall commitment to player development. However, Jackson claims to have had the same experience as Flores in his time with the Browns. The Browns offered him money to lose games and were successful in their goal of acquiring high draft picks; but Jackson was fired from his position in the 2019 season. He now serves as the head coach of Grambling State’s football team.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Head Coach, Mike Tomlin, has given this organization consistent success in his 15 seasons with the Steelers. Tomlin made history in the NFL this most recent season by setting the record for the most consecutive non-losing seasons at the beginning of a coaching career. He has seven American Football Conference (AFC) North Division titles, two AFC titles, has had nine playoff appearances and is the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. He is one of the longest-tenured active head coaches in the NFL. Tomlin is praised by his players and fellow NFL coaches for how well he controls and commands his team. Mike Tomlin still remains the head coach of the Steelers.
As a Lions fan, I have a soft spot for Jim Caldwell. Though there has not been much to celebrate in Lions history, Caldwell gave Detroit hope for a brighter future during his time here as a head coach. At the beginning of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he trained its quarterback, Brad Johnson, and in turn, Johnson broke team records for passing yards, completions and attempts, helping the team to finish with a winning season and a National Football Conference Wild Card spot. He served as part of the coaching staff for seven years with the Indianapolis Colts, and head coach for another three years. In nine of these seasons, the Colts set records by appearing in nine consecutive playoff appearances in which they won six AFC South titles and made it to two Super Bowls, winning one. Later, serving as an offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, Caldwell led the team to a Super Bowl win. Finally, in his time with the Detroit Lions, the defense ranked second in the NFL in total defense in 2014, making it one of its best defensive teams in Lions history. He was also the Lions’ first non-interim coach to leave the team with a winning record since the 1967-72 coach, Joe Schmidt, with two playoff seasons. He was fired from the Lions in 2017 on grounds of not being successful enough against higher-ranked teams for the then general manager, Bob Quinn. Jim Caldwell was the Lions’ most successful coach in almost 30 years. Two coaches have since gone on to take his place, but they have failed to even reach Caldwell in his success.
For an institution that largely exploits and profits off of Black talent, it’s frustrating to see the amount of blatant prejudice the NFL upholds. With the immense talent and careers to back up their tremendous coaching abilities, Black coaches should be given a fair opportunity to work without discrimination constantly threatening to take their jobs. I’m conflicted in my decision to support the NFL, because its treatment of marginalized individuals is extremely problematic. However, the magic that Black people make on the field is remarkable and inspiring to see. While I hope the NFL will change for the better, I doubt we will ever see the change we need because of its systemic racism. In spite of the discrimination they face, I hope Black people continue to be strong forces and take this industry by storm.
MiC Columnist Maria Patton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.