One of the biggest pieces of news to come out this week was former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores’s lawsuit against the NFL.
Flores, who is Black, accused the Dolphins of incentivizing losses and pressuring him to break league rules. He said he was framed as difficult to work with for refusing such things.
In January, he was fired, despite leading the team to a second straight winning season. The labeling of Black people as angry and difficult to work with is a stereotype in itself that dates back centuries.
Somehow, that isn’t close to being the most infuriating part of this. Flores also accused two teams of conducting sham interviews, with the implication being that they only interviewed him to fulfill Rooney Rule requirements.
One of these examples happened recently, as New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick texted Flores congratulating him on the job with the New York Giants. Belichick had heard that the franchise was ready to hire him. The only problem was that the Brian he was actually referring to was Brian Daboll, and Flores hadn’t even had his interview yet.
The other incident happened in 2019, when Flores interviewed for the Denver Broncos head coaching job. According to Flores, general manager John Elway and others came to the interview an hour late and hung over.
Of course, all three franchises denied these allegations in some way, shape or form. When I heard about the Broncos example, it also reminded me of when Elway made misleading comments in 2018 on Colin Kaepernick’s collusion case.
He said at the time that the Broncos gave Kaepernick a chance, and he turned it down. Of course, he left out the context that these negotiations happened before the 49ers quarterback started kneeling during the anthem. I’m believing Flores’s claims over any of the franchises mentioned, but Elway gets even less of a benefit of the doubt here.
This news was frustrating and disgusting to hear. The natural progression of this conversation leads to the question of, “How can we make things better?”
The Rooney Rule clearly hasn’t worked. There’s currently one Black head coach in the NFL, and these reports of sham interviews are unsurprising and disheartening. I also can’t help but remember mocking comments from former Washington Commanders (previously the Football Team) executives on the Rooney Rule and league diversity initiatives. It can be very hard to be hopeful about change happening at all when you see all of these things.
The problem very clearly starts at the top. Instituting rule changes to combat implicit biases won’t matter much when those in power don’t care to genuinely engage. Flores made a few recommendations for improving the process, such as increasing the influence of Black people in hiring processes, incentivizing the hiring and retention of Black coaches and executives, and making the process more “objective.” That last point would consist of teams writing out rationale for the decisions they’ve made and requiring consideration of things such as experience, past performance and more.
Trying to make hiring and firing an objective process can be a bit messy, but I think the specific suggestions are at least interesting and worth thinking about further.
I’ll say once again that these stories are always disheartening to hear for me. A while back, I did my own reporting on how Nebraska is one of few schools to never have a Black head coach in any sport. That fact is still shocking to me.
At the very least, I know there are people out there dedicated to improving this process. I like the fact that Nebraska created a diverse hiring committee for its athletic director hire this past summer, and hope that things like that can lead to more diversity in top positions. Not only here, but throughout the country.