The fact there is inherent racism in the NFL — at least at the top level — has never been much of a secret. A cursory glance at coaching and front office hires over the years is enough to conclude there’s a reason the league has failed miserably in putting Blacks in charge of teams — and keeping them there.
There’s no excuse for that, despite the half-hearted efforts of the Rooney Rule to change things. And fired Miami coach Brian Flores is right — not to mention extraordinarily brave — to highlight the very worst of it in a lawsuit filed this week that should shake the league to its core.
It just might cost Flores his career, which up until the time the Dolphins let him go was looking bright. He was a winner in a place where there hasn’t been much winning in recent years. Yet for some reason, which Flores claims was because he was considered an “angry black man,” he was canned at the end of the regular season anyway.
Whether the lawsuit goes anywhere is for lawyers to debate. Aside from a text message from New England coach Bill Belichick and the wild allegation John Elway and other Denver officials went on a drunk the night before the Broncos were supposed to interview Flores for their open job in 2019, the lawsuit filed in federal court in New York relies more on historical context than anything to make its case.
That history is important because it shows a pattern. The fact remains there’s only one Black coach among 32 teams in a league where seven of 10 players are Black. That one is a little hard for even the most skilled NFL lawyers to argue away as pure happenstance.
Still, the most shocking allegation in the lawsuit has little — if anything — to do with race. It’s unclear, in fact, why it is even in the filing to begin with, other than to show Dolphins owner Stephen Ross in the worst light possible.
Simply put, Flores said Ross wanted him to do the unimaginable in the NFL: fix games. The former coach said Ross offered him $100,000 a loss to make sure his team dropped enough games in his rookie season in 2019 to get to the top of the draft order.
That, of course, is unconscionable. It’s also unethical and immoral, though that hasn’t always bothered the NFL in the past.
It should bother them now just to have it mentioned. Throwing games goes to the core of the integrity of the league. If the public — and the sports bettors the NFL has embraced — aren’t convinced the outcome of games hasn’t been predetermined, the fate of the entire league could be in jeopardy.
For decades, the NFL fought off gambling and betting as an evil, afraid a quarterback or kicker might fix a game for money. Now it has jumped into bed with millions of dollars in deals with gamblers and gambling companies, only to have a rogue owner offering six figures for each loss?
There were already enough conspiracy theories about who the league wants to win and when. Now every miscue, every penalty will be scrutinized to see who might profit from it.
The bottom line is there is no NFL if fans don’t believe the games are on the up and up. It’s that simple, and it’s that serious.
The burden of proof, of course, is greater than Flores simply repeating a conversation he had on a yacht with Ross. But if enough corroborating evidence can be found, there’s only one thing the NFL can do — get rid of Ross and find a new owner in Miami.
That won’t get Flores his job back and neither, unfortunately, will his lawsuit. But the fact he filed it during the midst of head coaching interviews with several teams indicates he didn’t expect any job offers to come his way this offseason anyway.
Indeed, Flores is taking the chance that he might end up as the Curt Flood of football. Flood challenged the reserve clause in baseball in 1969 in an attempt to become a free agent and was largely blackballed from baseball the rest of his life.
But Flores said he could no longer stay quiet after a string of text messages with Belichick led him to believe Brian Daboll had already been chosen the new coach of the New York Giants three days before his own scheduled interview with the team.
“It was humiliating to be quite honest,” Flores said. “There was disbelief, there was anger, there was a wave of emotion for a lot of reasons.”
Flores had too much pride to sit back and watch coach after coach get hired when his own interviews seemed mostly for show. He had too much integrity to take money to tank games when he had spent his life trying to become a winning football coach.
His lawsuit was a stunner, throwing a spotlight on one issue, and opening a potential can of worms on another. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the NFL, which wanted people focusing on Tom Brady’s retirement and next week’s Super Bowl instead of talking about racism, game fixing and a new nickname in Washington.
No, Flores may not win his lawsuit and may never coach in the NFL again. He’s taking a huge chance with no guarantee what the future will bring.
To a lot of people, though, he’s a big winner simply for trying.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg