No Place for Racism in NFL or Anywhere

Racism has no place in the NFL, or anywhere for that matter, and if allegations made by former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores prove to be true, the consequences could scale all the way up to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

On Tuesday, Flores filed a class-action claim against the NFL in the Southern District of New York, claiming that “the league is racist in its hiring practices of coaches.”

Flores maintains he has had two separate interviews with two different teams in which it was clear that the discussions were nothing more than an appeasement of the Rooney Rule, which states that all teams must give at least one interview to a minority candidate before making a head coaching hire.

Flores accused the league and its owners of sham interviews, incentivizing losses and applying untoward pressure to improperly recruit players. The league and three teams that were named in the filing – the Dolphins, Giants, and Broncos – denied his allegations. As far as incentivizing losses, Flores contends Miami owner Stephen Ross explicitly offered him $100,000 for each loss the team suffered in 2019 in an attempt to strengthen the value of the Dolphins’ first-round draft pick.

An unnamed witness has confirmed those conversations did exist.

This is no small fire. Proof of anything alleged by Flores could create all kinds of trouble for the league. In a particularly damning indictment, the former Miami head coach said the NFL “is racially segregated and managed much like a plantation.”

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, Rule 23(a) provides that action requires four conditions to qualify for class treatment: (i) the class must be so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (ii) there must be questions or law or fact common to the class, (iii) the claims of the representative parties must be typical of the claims of the class, and (iv) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

Flores said in a statement that he hopes others will “join his lawsuit to [reveal] systemic racism [exists] in the NFL.”

In its own statement, the league said “diversity is core to everything we do” and added that Flores’ claims “are without merit.” At the time the lawsuit was filed, the Steelers were the only team that employed a Black head coach (Mike Tomlin), with five spots still vacant in this hiring cycle after four openings were filled by white men.

Two of the four GM openings went to men of color, including the Bears, who hired Ryan Poles last week, the first Black GM in the team’s 101-year history. Chicago also hired Ian Cunningham to be the team’s assistant general manager.

Yesterday, 49ers coach DeMeco Ryans withdrew from consideration for the head coach opening in Minnesota. Only Kevin O’Connell and Raheem Morris have been interviewed twice, though Patrick Graham is also being considered by the Vikings. O’Connell is the lone white candidate among the three after Jim Harbaugh announced that he also withdrew today.

With the current and continuing turmoil, the league’s ongoing Black Awareness campaign looks like little more than virtue signaling. Raising awareness is always a good thing, at least until racism allegations turn a campaign for human decency and equal rights into one of hypocrisy. When the NFL stamps its end zones with the words “End Racism” in next week’s Super Bowl, are we supposed to believe they actually endorse that statement?

The notion of blatant racism is nothing new with the league. Earlier this year, Goodell announced the NFL would discontinue the practice of “race norming,” a statistical manipulation that historically underpaid Black players with concussions and/or brain trauma.

The league also had to deal with the disgraceful resignation of Raiders head coach Jon Gruden after reports in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times indicated that he used racist, homophobic, and misogynist language in emails dating back to 2010.

Gruden is suing Goodell and the NFL for intentionally harming his reputation in order to keep him from working as a coach or television analyst.

It might be a good time for the commissioner to step down. A denial almost looks like a distortion of the truth considering the racial disparity throughout the league. This year’s Super Bowl is being played at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA, where 45% of its Black residents are experiencing gentrification displacement as a result of the stadium’s construction.

As baseball recognizes Jackie Robinson annually, perhaps it’s a good time for the NFL to start paying tribute to Kenny Washington, the first Black player in the modern era to sign an NFL contract in 1946. Washington was a football teammate of Jackie Robinson at UCLA, who switched to baseball and broke the MLB color barrier a year later. Woody Strode also signed with the Rams later in ’46.

Fritz Pollard did play for Akron in 1920 and ’21 when the league was known as the American Professional Football Association. When the NFL was created in 1922, league owners imposed a “gentleman’s agreement” preventing the signing of any Black players.

“You used to be able to tell the story of the NFL without telling this story, but not anymore,” said Keyshawn Johnson, a former NFL player. He co-wrote a new book about Washington and others, “The Forgotten First,” with Newsday football columnist Bob Glauber.

“There needs to be some sort of date in honor of these men, the way baseball made the decision to have Jackie Robinson Day,” Johnson said. “The commissioner and his crew certainly should do something.”

Super Bowl LVI would have provided a perfect opportunity to commemorate Washington, but Goodell would really have to sell the league’s sincerity after the events of this week.

Note: Goodell should also recognize that the Browns integrated in 1946 when they signed Marion Motley and Bill Willis, though Cleveland played in the All-American Football Conference at the time. The AAFC was formed in 1944 to challenge the NFL, and three of its teams – the Browns, 49ers, and Colts – were acquired by the senior league when the AAFC folded in 1949.

Did You Know?

The AAFC was founded by Chicago Tribune columnist Arch Ward after turning down offers from Bears’ owner George Halas to become the commissioner of the NFL. Ward was instrumental in enticing former Ohio State coach Paul Brown from his Navy post as coach at Great Lakes to form the Browns, making it a no-brainer for Halas and his NFL contemporaries to allow the merger. The Browns won their first NFL title in 1950, the first season they played in the league.

Ward is also credited for creating the MLB All-Star Game, and he was indirectly responsible for pairing Bronko Nakurski with the Bears.

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