Will The NFL Make A Change?
Chasity Carner

On February 1st, 2022 Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit for racial discrimination against the National Football League after being dismissed of his Miami Dolphins coaching position. Having just wrapped up his second season with the Dolphins, he led the team to a 8-1 record in 2021.

Flores’ courage to speak out has brought an uproar of attention to a much bigger issue within the league– the lack of Black head coaches within the NFL. Flores did not only name the Miami Dolphins, he also made allegations against the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants. 

As the NFL entered their 102nd season in 2022, 13 of the current 32 teams had never had a Black head coach, and 11 of the teams had only instilled one. At the beginning of 2022, the NFL was standing with only one Black head coach. The NFL recently released statistics stating there have been over 500 head coaches, to which only 24 of them have been Black. This equals an extremely low and concerning total of 4.8%. 

 

The Rooney Rule

The “Rooney Rule” was implemented in 2003 after the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dan Rooney, fought to ensure minority coaches would be considered for high-level coaching positions. The rule entails that each team must interview a minimum of two minority candidates for every open coaching position. The rule was most recently expanded in 2020, and it now requires the two interviews for coaching positions and an additional external minority candidate for both offensive and defensive coordinator positions. 

Charles McDonald is a former writer for For The Win – USA Today and currently works as a Writer covering the NFL for the New York Times. McDonald voiced his opinion on the recent events, and spoke of his opinion on the effectiveness of the Rooney Rule in which he stated, “I think the Rooney Rule might have been made with good intentions, but at this point it can’t be considered as anything other than a massive failure. While we are starting to see more minority candidates populate the front office ranks and Black and Brown people becoming general managers, the same advancement can’t be said for where the coaching ranks currently are. Only time will tell if it’s a longstanding advancement on the general manager front. Right now, the NFL has three coaches that they classify as Black: the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, Lovie Smith with the Texans, and Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel (who had his racial ethnicity questioned not too long ago). Smith and McDaniel were both hired this year. Three of 32 head coaches in a league that’s at least 70% Black. There’s no way to see any of this as a success.”

 

The Rooney Rule, and its Effectiveness

Racism has been brought to the forefront as a controversial topic within the United States for decades, and most recently been advocated again with the Black Lives Matter Movement back in 2020. 

Most recently with regards to the NFL, Brian Flores’ lawsuit has the viewing public questioning whether or not the league’s effort to fix its own racial issues is effective, or enough.

McDonald also stated, “Think about who the NFL owners are. Extremely wealthy, mostly White, mostly right wing or Republicans. When has their demographic ever cared about diversity? That’s a question I would ask you or anyone about why the Rooney Rule hasn’t worked. There is nothing saying they have to hire coaches of color, they just have to interview them. In general, it’s difficult to believe that the types of people who populate the small fraternity of NFL owners would ever care about issues that don’t even come close to landing on their doorstops.”

 

The Significance of Brian Flores’ Lawsuit

Brian Flores’ lawsuit has gained national attention due to his bravery to speak up on a topic that no other former coach has had the courage to do. Being a Black man in the spotlight of a league as big as the NFL, speaking up causes a fear factor that you will no longer have further opportunities to come. This was not entirely the case for Flores, as he was hired by head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which is owned by the son of Don Rooney, Art Rooney II. 

Sports Illustrated Staff Writer and Co-host of Split Zone Duo Podcast, Richard Johnson said, “Brian returning to the NFL after filing the lawsuit was an extremely bold move, but it was brave of him to actually step up to the plate and do it. This is something that makes him not only noble, but shows that it was not the end of his career at all – this was just the beginning.” 

Brian Flores’ new hire as of February 19 with the Pittsburgh Steelers is a statement to the public, showing that speaking up on a topic you are passionate about does not mean it is the end of the road. Brian will be continuing his coaching career with the Steelers, as Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin reiterated that they will support Flores and said, “I am excited about Brian Flores joining our coaching staff given his history of developing and teaching defensive players during his time in the NFL,” Tomlin said. “Brian’s resume speaks for itself, and I look forward to him adding his expertise to help our team.”

Charles McDonald is in agreement with Johnson’s quota alongside Flores’ bravery and new beginnings. “I think this is one of the most interesting parts of Brian Flores’ lawsuit. In just about any measurable way, Flores is uniquely fit to be an NFL head coach. Not only did he over perform as a rookie head coach on a team that was looking towards the future, but the defense, his area of expertise, was consistently good with the Dolphins.”

Some from the outside looking in remain supportive yet doubtful that Flores will win the discrimination aspect of his lawsuit against the NFL, as the plausible odds do not typically play out the way they should. “It’s understandable that Flores would be upset that he’s seen as a second-tier coaching prospect when he should be at the top of a lot of lists. Flores winning the discrimination portion of his lawsuit are slim, but he will certainly get eyes on this issue” said McDonald.

 

How Do We See Change Within The Issue

While remaining hopeful that Brian Flores’ bravery creates a change within the NFL in the future of hiring Head Coaches, there is nothing outside of the implemented Rooney Rule that can insure that change is made. Flores previously said that despite his passion for football, he wishes for changes to be made for further generations over his personal goals and passions for the game.

“In order for real change to be made, you just gotta do it. You have to hire them. You can interview to meet criteria all you want, but without hiring any of the minorities who are interviewing – nothing is ever going to change. You simply have to make the hires” said Johnson.

By now the people are subjected to their own opinions of Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL, and how they think changes can be made effectively. 

“The NFL follows the lead of many corporate entities in the United States. Labor is not adequately cared for by management in many arenas and the racial disparity that the NFL suffers from is a direct reflection of what has gone wrong with American society. I don’t have any solutions to fix the lack of Black head coaches in the NFL because the class of people that can do something about it have shown they have no interest in the idea” McDonald said. 

Although the updated Rooney Rule has done a great amount of progression of anti-discrimination in the NFL, it is insuffient in ensuring minorities are actively given the same opportunities for higher-level coaching. Thanks to Brian Flores’ courage to speak up, the NFL knows how to adequately create the necessary changes with improving the program. All that is left now is the implementation.

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