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Well over half the players in the National Football League are Black, but you can count on one hand the number of Black head coaches or general managers. That's been a problem for years, though a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court alleging racism in hiring and recruitment has cast a new spotlight on it. Washington Post sports columnist Kevin Blackistone joins William Brangham to discuss.
Well over half of the players in the national football league are Black, but you could count on one hand the number of top head coaches or general managers who are. That has been a problem for many years.
But a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court yesterday has cast a stark new spotlight on it, alleging racism in hiring and recruitment.
William Brangham has the latest.
Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores took to the morning shows today, explaining why he's suing the NFL and its 32 teams over alleged racist hiring practices.
Brian Flores, Former Miami Dolphins Head Coach:
We didn't have to file a lawsuit for the world to know that there's a problem, from a hiring standpoint, in regards to minority coaches in the National Football League. The numbers speak for themselves.
We filed the lawsuit so that we could create some change.
Flores said the league is — quote — "rife with racism," pointing to stark racial disparities in players vs. management. The lawsuit alleges that, out of 32 NFL teams, none has a Black owner, only one has a Black head coach, only four have a Black offensive coordinator, and only 11 have a Black defensive coordinator.
That's against the backdrop of NFL players, where 58 percent of whom are Black. Flores was fired last month, after three years leading the Dolphins, the last two being winning seasons. He was interviewed for the head coach job with the New York Giants, but Flores alleges he wasn't really being considered.
As evidence, his lawsuit includes text messages between Flores and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick that were sent three days before Flores' scheduled interview for the Giants job.
Belichick said he'd heard from the other team that Flores was — quote — "their guy." But Belichick then realized he'd texted the wrong Brian and admitted to Flores it was Brian Daboll who'd already been chosen. Daboll, who is white, was officially named the new Giants head coach last week.
In a statement, the Giants said Flores was — quote — "in the conversation to be our head coach until the 11th hour," but hired the individual the team felt was the most qualified.
Flores argues the Giants' interview process is typical of how the NFL carries out the so-called Rooney Rule. That rule was created nearly 20 years ago to give more minority candidates opportunities to become NFL head coaches. It was amended in 2020 to say that teams must interview at least two minority candidates not associated with their team for any head coach openings.
It was humiliating, to be quite honest. There was disbelief. There was anger. There was a wave of emotions for a lot of reasons.
The NFL, in response, said it would defend against the lawsuit, and that diversity is — quote — "core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership spend more time."
Flores' suit, filed as a putative class action, will need certification from the court to proceed.
To unpack more on this, I'm joined by Kevin Blackistone. He is a columnist at The Washington Post and a frequent guest on ESPN.
Kevin Blackistone, great to have you back on the "NewsHour."
So, Brian Flores has two straight winning seasons. He's fired by the Dolphins. And then he says that he is humiliated by the fact that he knows he's now interviewing for a job that's already been given to another — a white coach, and he says this makes an absolute mockery of this Rooney Rule.
Do you agree with that?
The problem with the Rooney Rule is not the rule. The problem with the Rooney Rule are the people who have been entrusted to carry out the moral and ethic responsibilities embedded in the Rooney Rule. And that is what has let Brian Flores down and a number of other coaches down as well.
I mean, how could the New York Giants, their executive office, actually bring him in for an interview, for a job that they had already decided to give to someone else?
It is the ultimate embarrassment for Brian Flores, which he does not deserve, and it was the trigger, obviously, for him to file this scorched-earth lawsuit not just against the Giants and the Broncos and a couple of other teams he named, but against all of the owners in the National Football League.
I mean, the Giants, in their defense, say they did consider Flores seriously. Maybe they interviewed him very late in the process, but that they chose to go with somebody else, and that is still their legal right to do.
If, as you argue, that this is about the people who are entrusted with enacting that rule, we can't force people to hire people of certain minority status. So how do we level this playing field? What's the path forward?
Well, in the very beginning, on the first page of the lawsuit that Brian Flores filed against all of these owners, he quotes Martin Luther King talking about the difference in legislating morality and regulating morality.
And I think that speaks to what Brian Flores and other Black coaches, aspiring coaches of color, are concerned about. And it's having the same opportunities to get these jobs that their white counterparts have. It's also about being able to stay on those jobs and prove yourself for as long as your white counterparts.
And it's being able to get another job again if, in fact, you are released or decide to leave a job that you already had, which is something that's not afforded to coaches of color as readily as it is to white coaches who may fail or, for whatever reasons, want to seek employment elsewhere.
So it's the way that the league goes about handling this situation that the lawsuit is seeking to change, making things more transparent, so that you don't walk into interviews that you know are just to check a box, as Brian Flores pointed out, so that you know that you have a real opportunity.
And that's the problem here. And so, good, he has filed a lawsuit. I mean, this lawsuit is stunning. And he's going to try and bring the NFL to its knees to reckon with this situation.
I have said it before, I have written it before, but the progeny of enslaved Africans in this country have rarely gotten anything unless we have threatened to burn the house down, or, in Brian Flores' case, actually start the fire.
It reminds me a little bit of that famous quote of — John Thompson from Georgetown University, the famous Black basketball coach, who said Black coaches never get the opportunity. They have to be perfect every single time.
They never get to fail, and then try again, like so many white coaches get.
And you think about Condoleezza Rice's book, where she quotes what has been said in Black households many times, right, twice as good. So, Brian Flores has to be twice as good in order to get the job that Daboll would.
And I should point out about the New York Giants, they can say that in their defense, but, as long as they have been around in their cornerstone franchise in the NFL, they have never had a Black head coach. Brian Flores is from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, where the saying is, never ran, never will.
Well, he's very present to want to be the coach of a Giants team that he grew up in the shadow of.
I want to turn to this other racially fraught piece of NFL business in the news.
And that is the Washington Football Team, which for many, many years was named after what many argue is a racist slur about Native Americans. They have now changed that name. They are the Washington Commanders announced today to great fanfare.
You have watched this for a very long time. I know you have studied this issue in particular. What do you make of how the Washington team has handled this?
Very poorly. It is with great disappointment.
And I grew up in Washington, D.C. I grew up in a family that had five season tickets, when they were very hard to get, to go see this team play. I was a big fan of the team maybe up until about 10 years ago.
And when I learned in the '90s about how dangerous, how racist the name was, I begin to study it. I began to try and remove it from my speech, from my writing, and began to side with Native American activists like Suzan Shown Harjo, who have been fighting to get this name removed since as far back as 1972, 50 years now.
And so to hear Dan Snyder some years ago almost sound like…
This is the owner of the Washington team.
The owner — yes, the owner of the team — almost sound like George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door when he said he would never — and put it in all caps — change the name of this team, it was very disheartening, knowing that people are being hurt by this.
And I have documented this in a film that will be released and premiered in April, "Imagining the Indian," about just how hurtful this name and this imagery is.
So, nothing was done here altruistically. This was done because of economic pressure brought on by FedEx, which is the name sponsor of the Washington football team stadium. It was brought on by the protests in the streets in the wake of the George Floyd murder, when people begin to try and reconcile with this long history of white supremacy in this country, which is very much a part of the Washington Football Team history.
In fact, if you read through Brian Flores' suit about the history of racism in this country, he cites the original owner/founder of this franchise, George Preston Marshall, and how he kept this team all white until the very end, when the federal government forced them to change the name — change to an integrated team.
All right, we should say that the documentary of yours that's coming out soon is called "Imagining the Indian."
Kevin Blackistone of The Washington Post, always good to see you. Thank you.
Thank you very much.
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William Brangham is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour in Washington, D.C. He joined the flagship PBS program in 2015, after spending two years with PBS NewsHour Weekend in New York City.
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