The Brian Flores complaint, explained

OPINION: Is the NFL racist? The former Miami Dolphins head coach's lawsuit lays out a compelling case.

Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins looks on against the Baltimore Ravens during the second quarter in the game at Hard Rock Stadium on November 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

By now, you’ve heard that former Miami Dolphin head coach Brian Flores has filed a class-action lawsuit against the racist NFL. While everyone has an opinion on whether it’s fair to accuse a bunch of racist white billionaires of racism, Flores’ complaint lays out a compelling argument and shares a few interesting details on the inner workings of America’s favorite plantation system. 

For the sake of objectivity, we decided not to pass judgment on these racists and simply explain the details of the case.

Are you sure you are going to be objective? You just called the NFL a “plantation system.” 

You’re right. The word plantation originally referred to: “A farm, estate, or tract of land…in which cotton, sugar cane, tobacco, coffee, etc., are cultivated, usually by negroes, peons, or coolies.”

While NFL franchises are estates on tracts of land where negroes, peons and coolies (hired labor) cultivate profits, I should have been more specific about defining the etcetera part.

Who is Brian Flores?

Brian Flores is a Black man of Hispanic descent. 

He grew up in Brooklyn to Honduran parents, and in 2004, the New England Patriots hired the 23-year-old as a scout. In 13 years with the team, Flores went to seven Super Bowls, winning four, and was promoted seven times by the best coach in the history of professional football, Bill Belichick. After leaving the Patriots in 2019 to coach the Miami Dolphins to a 5-11 record his first year, Flores led Miami to its first back-to-back winning seasons in over a decade. Shortly after the Dolphin’s 2021 campaign ended, Flores became the 16th coach in NFL history to be fired after a winning season.

According to the complaint, Flores was fired for refusing owner Stephen Ross’ wishes to tank in exchange for $100,000 for every loss, a banned practice that seems to be echoed by another Black former head coach, Hue Jackson.

Why is Brian Flores suing the NFL?

Because Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, the head of the “most prominent privately owned real estate firm in the United States,” treated him like a peon or a negro laborer whose job was to cultivate profits for his estate…

Oh, wait; I forgot. The NFL is not a plantation. 

Technically, Brian Flores is not suing the NFL.

Instead, he is part of a class of people who is suing the NFL that includes: “All Black Head Coach [sic], Offensive and Defensive Coordinators and Quarterbacks Coaches, as well as General Managers, and Black candidates for those positions during the applicable statute of limitations period.” (The suit also includes three teams—the Dolphins, the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos.)

According to the complaint, the members of the proposed class have been denied positions and subjected to “sham and illegitimate interviews,” biased retention practices, termination decisions; unequal employment terms, harm to their reputation and lesser pay than white coaches and GMs. The suit even names other Black head coaches who were discriminated against, including Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell and David Culley, the Houston Texans head coach who coached for 45 years before he was hired and fired after one year with the Houston Texans. 

Basically, the class is accusing the NFL of racism. 

What is racism?

According to the definition written by people who define words, racism is:

  1. A belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
  2. Behavior or attitudes that reflect and foster this belief : racial discrimination or prejudice
  3. The systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another
  4. A political or social system founded on racism and designed to execute its principles.

But how can he prove the NFL is racist?

In this case, Flores uses a very unfair strategy: He simply shows all the racist things that the NFL actually did. 

I know it seems like a sneaky trick, but the suit lays out a number of facts that are objectively true. It is a matter of fact that only one of the 32 head coaches in the NFL is Black. It is a matter of fact that only 12 percent of the offensive coordinators, 34 percent of defensive coordinators, 25 percent of special teams coordinators, nine percent of quarterback coaches and 19 percent of the league’s general managers are Black in a league where 7 out of 10 players are African American. Maybe he wants to know where they’re finding all these white boys to hire.

By the way, it’s not just Flores who thinks that the NFL is racist. The complaint notes that Troy Vincent, the NFL executive vice president of football operations, believes the NFL has a “double standard” when it comes to Black coaches while Jonathan Beane, the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity & inclusion officer says the NFL deserves all criticism for the “lack of representation at the GM and head coach positions.” One of the most damning parts of the filing notes that the NFL supported “race norming” for former players who suffered from the effects of concussions. Essentially, the NFL instructed doctors in its network to adjust the results of test scores to reflect the fact that Black players generally have lower cognitive functions.

“In certain critical ways, the NFL is racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation.” the suit adds. “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.”

OK. He said, “much like a plantation.” I told you I was being objective.

But what’s this stuff I heard about text messages? How can a text message congratulating someone be racist? And how is Mickey Rooney involved in this?

Calm down. You’re thinking of the Rooney Rule, named after Dan Rooney, the late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2003, the NFL adopted a policy that required teams to interview “one or more diverse candidates” before making a new hire. But apparently, it didn’t work. Since the Rooney Rule was adopted, more than 85 percent of NFL head coaching vacancies have been filled by white men. 

To fill the Rooney Rule requirement, the New York Giants organization scheduled an interview with Flores to fill its head coach position. Before the interview, Flores’ old boss, Bill Belichick, sent Flores a text congratulating him on the new job. Flores was confused until Belichick revealed that his text was intended for Brian Daboll, a white man.

“Mr. Flores had to give an extensive interview for a job that he already knew he would not get,” the complaint reads. “[A]n interview 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.”

So is the NFL racist?

To qualify as racist, the NFL would have to either exhibit behavior or attitude that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities. If the Washington Post story is true that “a confidential guidebook directed doctors to use several tests and score-curving systems” that concluded Black players have lower mental capacities, then that would be racist.

Or if the NFL systematically oppressed a racial group for the social, economic, and political advantage of another, then asking Black coaches to tank games or firing Black coaches at higher rates than white coaches would be, by definition, racist. But is the NFL “founded on racism and designed to execute its principles”? 

Well, there’s no evidence that the NFL systemically executes the principles of racism…

Except for the fact that they created an entire rule that addressed racism. Then there’s the fact that teams had a system in place to avert the Rooney Rule, which makes the racism systemic. Or maybe the differences in pay make it systemic. Or maybe the hiring percentages. Or Colin Kaepernick. Or the fact that four out of the 20 Black men who have ever held a head coaching job in the NFL for a full season has been fired with a winning record. Or the fact that racial disparities exist at every level of leadership. Or the fact that six of the league’s 32 teams have never hired a Black coach. Or maybe it is the fact that every single organization in the entire National Football League has racial disparities on their benches, sidelines and front offices. 

Every. Single. One.

If the NFL isn’t racist, then racism does not exist. 

Michael Harriot

Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His book, Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, will be released in 2022.

TheGrio is now on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Please download theGrio mobile apps today!