February 11, 2022 | SPORTS | By Zeke Lloyd | Illustration by Sierra Romero
On Jan. 23, 2022, New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick sent an important text to the wrong person. He wanted to congratulate Brian Daboll, the man he knew the New York Giants would name as their next head coach.
Intending to text Daboll, Belichick inadvertently messaged another candidate with the same first name: Brian Flores. Belichick wrote, “I hear from Buffalo & NYG that you are their guy.”
Flores, a Black coach formerly employed by the Miami Dolphins, still had three days until his interview for the job.
Flores asked Belichick if he had reached out to the wrong person. Belichick double-checked his source and realized that they were giving the job to Daboll. He apologized to Flores for the blunder.
Belichick’s admission of error is now the first line of a class action lawsuit, filed by Flores, against the NFL. The document alleges that teams have problematic tendencies: “The NFL remains rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of Black Head Coaches, Coordinators and General Managers.” It was submitted to the Southern District Court of New York on Feb. 1; the preliminary statement highlights that it was the first day of Black History Month.
The NFL is not the only defendant in the case. While the suit claims there are discriminatory practices in all 32 teams in the league, it names a few organizations explicitly: the New York Giants, the Miami Dolphins, and the Denver Broncos. Flores says he was mistreated by each of these organizations.
Flores was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins for three seasons, two of which the team finished with a winning record. In the suit, Flores claims that Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross offered him a $100,000 bonus for every game he lost during the 2019 season. Flores claims to have refused the offer. He guided the team to two consecutive winning seasons in the next two years before he was fired in January of 2022.
Only a few weeks after his firing, Flores received Belichick’s mistaken text. Per the NFL’s Rooney Rule, an attempt by the league to diversify its staff, every team is mandated to interview at least one minority candidate if they have a head coach or general manager vacancy.
Belichick’s text proved that the Giants had already selected their next person for the job, even though Flores wasn’t scheduled to interview for another three days. In the suit, Flores claims that he had to sit through a “sham interview,” knowing that the Giants had no intention of hiring him as their next head coach.
In his case against the Broncos, Flores outlines similar treatment during an interview with the organization in 2019. After the team fired Head Coach Vance Joseph the previous season, Flores was a candidate to fill the vacancy. He did not feel that he was afforded a real interview.
Flores said that John Elway, then the team’s general manager, was tardy for the meeting. In the suit, Flores described him as “completely disheveled,” alleging that, “it was obvious that they had drinking [sic] heavily the night before.”
In an official statement, Elway not only denied the allegations but also took offense to the notion that he would treat a candidate with such indecency. The former general manager explained his unkempt look, saying he had a long flight the night before.
The NFL’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, sees the lawsuit as an opportunity to improve the league’s coaching diversity. He promises that solutions to the league’s problems are soon to come.
However, some people, like Flores, are skeptical of the NFL. There was recently an incident that brought to light the longtime racial biases of a previously revered head coach.
Jon Gruden, a former head coach most recently with the Las Vegas Raiders, resigned earlier this season after the discovery of problematic emails sent over the course of his career. Some of his correspondence used homophobic slurs and misogynistic language, others carried overtly racist sentiments.
In the suit, Flores cites Gruden’s misdeeds as evidence of the league’s continued absence of progress, believing that proper litigation efforts are an important and necessary step to improving the league’s coaching diversity.
On the front page of the class action suit, directly below Belichick’s apology text, is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Morals cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. The law cannot make an employer love me, but it can keep him from refusing to hire me because of the color of my skin.”