Brian Flores

This entry was actually written at the time Brian Flores’ suit was announced in February 2022. One thing led to another and I only got to posting it now. The update is Flores still waits for his day in court. The case will most likely go to arbitration.

Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the NFL. His complaint highlights sham interviews and a directive to purposely lose games. Black financial advisors waged a discrimination claim against Merrill Lynch that cited similar indignities. The eight year battle resulted in a  $160M settlement for the plaintiffs in 2013. A look at the parallels between these cases shows how discrimination in the NFL is a reflection of the country’s shortcomings on matters of race. A greater awareness of this environment may help identify solutions to the problem.

Court or Arbitration

The complaints cited in Brian Flores discrimination lawsuit are certainly headline worthy. Sham interviews, payments to lose games and player tampering all compromise the integrity of the game. It is questionable, however, if the suit will even make it to court since the NFL may have the power to force it to be heard in arbitration. 

If Flores does have his day in court, he must not only prove he faced indignities and suffered damages because he is Black but also that the NFL implemented a league-wide policy which supported the mistreatment. This is the tricky part. There may be evidence of a double standard for the evaluation of Black coaches compared to white coaches. The question is whether or not the differentiation is a matter of policy.

Is It A Class Action?

As Michael Zimmer, a law professor at Loyola University Chicago notes, “ A class suit alleging unintentional yet systemic bias, is extremely rare. Roughly 15,000 discrimination lawsuits are filed each year, fewer than 100 make similarly broad claims.”

The Merrill Lynch advisors case rested on proving Merrill Lynch intentionally designed a retention program which discriminated against minorities. Time after time, judges ruled their claims did not have the strength to survive a legal challenge by the defendant. This happened because Merrill Lynch could not be held accountable for the behavior of managers in the company unless their behavior enforced a Merrill Lynch policy.  As a franchised partnership, the NFL may be able to make a claim that the league office is not responsible for a teams hiring practices. The thirty-two franchises operate on their own accord and set their own hiring rules.

Is It Like A Fraternity?

Linda Friedman, who represented the Merrill Lynch advisors, changed the tide for the advisors when she persuaded a judge that the Merrill Lynch policy on the formation of teams hindered the success of minorities in the same way a police department’s teaming policy discriminated against women. 

Friedman cited case law that affirmed “If police departments allowed veteran officers to pick their own partners, the force would never have been integrated.” When Friedman made this point the presiding judge inquired, “It’s like a fraternity? They’re not picked? This opened the door for the class to be certified and the case to be heard in court. 

This may mean the fraternal nature of the NFL coaching echelon may be the real pressure point for Flores case. Is there something inherent in the way coaches are hired that discriminates against minority applicants? 

Gruden Spills the Beans

John Gruden’s nickname is Chucky because when he’s angry he resembles the gleefully homicidal doll, Chucky, in the horror movie Child’s Play.

Comments from John Gruden when he was named head coach of the Oakland Raider offers a glimpse at how people are locked out of coaching positions in the NFL. He stated, “When you become a head coach, you can’t just go get the guys you want because they’re under contract. A lot of these guys are head coaches now, guys that you worked with. Over the years, I’ve always tried to keep a close group of friends and people that I have a high respect for on red alert, just in case an opportunity could arise.”

This attitude reflects the mindset of hiring managers in any industry. The problem is compounded once Gruden’s misogynist, racist and homophobic emails come to light. It begs the question: What does it take to be a close friend of Gruden’s? Surely, he has hired minority coaches in the past. Yet, how many people were repelled by his derogatory behavior? How many people didn’t click with him because they didn’t share his offensive attitudes? This isn’t simply a minority issue. It’s a cultural issue the entire league faces. It also explains why matters of race and other critical issues have been so hard for the NFL to resolve. It seems few thoughtful and open minded people are on red alert for open jobs at the NFL.

Got to Be in Lockstep

The New York Giants new general manager, Joe Schoen, offers another example of the clubiness of coaching in the NFL. He openly stated the criteria for the head coach he hires is that he “​​must be somebody who’s in lockstep with me. Someone that I can work with and have constant communication.” If you’re not on the inside, you’re on the outside.

Schoen’s statement ignores the contention that the best qualified candidate will be hired. In reality, all the candidates for C-Suite jobs are qualified. It’s a matter of having the attributes the hiring team seeks. Once again, Schoen makes it clear only a person from his sphere is qualified to be hired as the coach of the Giants. The system is like a fraternity. This is why they’re not picked. Can Flores’ make this case in legal terms and expose the bias in the hiring of NFL coaches?

People Like Us

Gruden’s and Schoen’s mindset also ignores accepted research that diversity is a gift for an organization. Divergent ideas can energize an organization once a homogeneous team exhausts its imagination. Research also proves companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams—not only with respect to absolute representation but also of variety or mix of ethnicities —are 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability.

The Brian Flores lawsuit certainly exposes the underbelly of the NFL. As many pundits have predicted, the embarrassment of the league may be enough to force them to address their hiring issues. Remember the Merrill Lynch case never went to court. It was settled because it was a public relations nightmare. Yet, the NFL have previously survived public relations fiascos like the Colin Kaepernick protest, CTE, the misogyny and racism of the Washington Commander’s owner Daniel Snyder. The billionaire owners know their league is teflon. We will see if the Brian Flores revelations will be any different.

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