IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Brian Flores risked his NFL career for the greater good. Let's hope it was worth it.

Like Colin Kaepernick, Flores is having to make a decision at the risk of losing it all.
Image: Brian Flores
Then-Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores prior to an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla.Miami Dolphins via AP

When former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a blistering 58-page federal racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and three teams — the Dolphins, the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos — it prompted much discussion about inequality in the league. And for Flores, it marked the start of a long, uphill battle.

Flores is making a principled and necessary decision at the risk of losing it all.

“In certain critical ways, the NFL is racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation,” the Flores lawsuit alleges, describing a league ruled by mostly white billionaire men who mostly hire white male coaches who then tell their mostly Black players (70 percent, according to the lawsuit) what to do.

The lawsuit also builds on racist moments from the league’s past, including the shameful practice of “race-norming,” in which Black players were documented as having a lower baseline cognitive function than white players, which makes it harder to prove Black players suffer from a mental deficit as a result of brain injury and trauma from playing the sport. The league engaged in this practice until 2021, when a group of Black players sued, claiming the practice prevented them from being fairly compensated for sustained brain injuries. The NFL admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed to end the practice in a joint agreement.

In response to Flores, the NFL said that "diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time,” vowing to “defend against these claims, which are without merit.”

"We vehemently deny any allegations of racial discrimination and are proud of the diversity and inclusion throughout our organization," a Dolphins spokesman said in a statement responding to the suit. "The implication that we acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect."

In a statement, the Giants said Flores’ allegations are “disturbing and simply false.”

The expected denials have not deterred Flores. “My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come,” Flores said in a statement the day his lawsuit went public. This stance should be commended, especially when you consider the career risk the 40-year-old Flores is undertaking. Flores is a candidate the NFL should be actively promoting, not shunning.

And yet this act could likely lead to not only the end of Flores’ career, but prove how difficult it is to hold the NFL accountable — something former player Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers can attest to. Like Kaepernick, Flores is now making a principled and necessary decision at the risk of losing it all. We can only hope that he's able to force the issue to the point that it can’t be ignored, even in the face of a powerful league.

With Flores out of the coaching ranks, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the only Black head coach in the NFL and Ron Rivera of the newly named Washington Commanders the only Latino head coach.

Page 28 of the lawsuit quotes sports journalist Jemele Hill as saying, “[M]ost NFL owners have been white men, and they have seldom been willing to let African Americans or Latinos call plays — either on the field or from the sidelines. This is no different from when franchises presumed that Black players weren’t smart enough to play quarterback and lacked leadership skills to command men.”

Notice that she ties in both Black and Latino representation here. Flores is of Honduran descent, born in Brooklyn to two Honduran parents who identify as Garifuna, a population with Caribbean, Indigenous and African roots. In 2020, during Hispanic Heritage Month and while he was still the coach of the Dolphins, Flores was featured in a video shared by the team where he spoke with great pride about being Honduran and Garifuna.

This is a league that has seen a significant increase in Latino fans but still sees dramatically low representation on the player side (.05 percent of NFL players in 2019).

With Flores out of the coaching ranks, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the only Black head coach in the NFL and Ron Rivera of the newly named Washington Commanders the only Latino head coach. In the 32-team league, all the other head coaches are white (there are at least four coaching vacancies yet to be filled). Still, we’re left with a league that vigorously defends its diversity record when directly challenged, such as this statement: "The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations."

For years the NFL has hidden behind the so-called Rooney Rule, which mandates that teams must consider nonwhite candidates for interviews and hires. But as with many self-imposed rules, there has been little progress. The Flores lawsuit labeled the rule “well-intentioned,” but claims it’s still “not working,” arguing that “management is not doing the interviews in good faith, and it therefore creates a stigma that interviews of Black candidates are only being done to comply with the Rooney Rule rather than in recognition of the talents that the Black candidates possess.”

Such arguments should be amplified to the point that they become the conversation surrounding the NFL and the sport of football.

Now the real challenge starts for Flores. Will active players who make millions of dollars join him in the suit? Will they be willing to risk their own careers for the greater good? And, will the NFL just paint Flores as the “angry Black man” who is bitter from not getting a job? For Flores to rise above it, he will need allies.

Meanwhile, as the country continues to witness a population growth that is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever, the NFL appears to be stuck in an America that will never come back.