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The NFL goes to court

Like most people, I get a series of push messages on my phone throughout the course of the day, a mix of stories from the NY Times and CNN and some other places where I somehow opted into messaging and can’t figure out how to turn it off. Most of these barely register, even though 90% are headlined BREAKING NEWS in all caps. But yesterday afternoon, a headline from ESPN made me take pause, enough that I felt compelled to read it to the other two people on a Zoom call.

The headline read, and I’m paraphrasing, that former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, was suing the NFL, the NY Giants, Denver Broncos, and the Dolphins for both his recent firing by Miami and discriminatory hiring practices with NY and Denver, both with whom he interviewed for open head coaching positions – neither of which he got. Flores, who is black, alleged that the League and these teams in particular only interviewed him to satisfy the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for open head coaching positions, but neither the Giants nor the Broncos give him a fair shot nor took him seriously as a candidate. Flores believes this even more so because – and this gets crazy – long-time NFL coach Bill Belichick accidently texted Flores to tell him the Giants were going to hire him when he meant to text Brian Daboll, who actually did get the Giants job. And this text came before Flores had even gone for his interview. Thus, making this whole process performative to check a box. This is the crux of the case – well, that part of the case.

The allegations against the Dolphins and team owner Stephen Ross are perhaps even more damning if true. Flores alleges that Ross offered to pay him $100,000 per game to lose on purpose to allow Miami to get a higher draft pick. He also said that Ross tried to get him to break NFL tampering rules by inadvertently on-purpose running into a star NFL quarterback at a marina. Flores claims he was fired because he refused to comply with both of these, if true, really, really bad violations of NFL rules. And to be clear, Flores was fired after two winning seasons, something that hadn’t happened in quite some time in South Florida.

Needless to say, this story reverberated like a whoopie cushion at the Opera. Everyone took notice. And the legal posturing is off to a quick start, with Flores and his lawyers on the media circuit while the NFL and it’s accused teams strongly asserting the case has no merit. Consider this the first lap of a marathon. That said, there will be no shortage of armchair legal analysts prognosticating what did and will happen, largely based on what they read on twitter. The future is far more nuanced and in doubt – as is always the case.

Here's what we do know. When it comes to diversity, NFL head coaches as an aggregate look very different than its players, of which nearly 60% identify as Black. Yet right now, there’s only one black head coach out of 32 teams. Regardless of your opinion on this particular case or even on the larger, far more incendiary question of hiring practices in any industry, we can all agree that this is a problem. Which means that whether or not you agree that Brian Flores was mistreated by NFL owners, we should all agree that this case should be a clarion call to League officials that something needs to change. Whether it does or in a meaningful way is yet to be seen.

Second, as big an issue as hiring practices for head coaches is, we may all be burying the lead. Not lost here is that a former NFL coach accused an owner of trying to bribe him to throw football games. This isn’t a minor infraction like deflated footballs. This is next level stuff that basically destroys integrity and gives credence to conspiracy theorists. This is how owners are kicked out of a League and congress gets involved. So not to ignore the heart of this lawsuit, which in many ways affirms something a lot of people already believed, but if proven true, the NFL may finally have an issue that divides its owners.

For now, it’s a lot of hurry up and wait – and even more eyes on the five remaining NFL head coaching openings. Each of which is likely to be breaking news.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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