Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Why Brian Flores’ Lawsuit Matters (From a Non-Football Fan)

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

On February 1st, the first day of Black History Month, headlines exploded with sports news that wasn’t about the Superbowl or the Olympics. Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores was suing the National Football League for racial discrimination and I couldn’t be more confused. Why did this matter so much? Everyone knows that the NFL is racist, so at first, this didn’t come as a surprise to me. But when I read more into the case, I gained a bit of unexpected optimism.

I will not go into a great amount of detail about the lawsuit, but the gist of it is that Flores was fired by his team’s owner Stephen Ross in January, which led him to file this class-action lawsuit in the federal Southern District of New York. Flores, who was raised in a Brooklyn housing project and began coaching football after graduate school, led the Dolphins for three years and was the only Black head coach in the NFL at that time (a league in which 70% of the players are Black, but none of the owners are). He claims that he has encountered various forms of racial discrimination throughout his career, including a direct violation of the “Rooney Rule” that is meant to mandate diverse hiring practices. If you want to read all about it, the lawsuit and the evidence presented in it has been highly covered and articles like this one by the New York Times helped me make sense of it. 

Essentially, Flores had a job interview with the New York Giants but learned from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick that the position had secretly gone to another coach, Brian Daboll, before Flores had even interviewed. Belichick had sent a congratulatory text to Flores, thinking he was texting Daboll and then affirming that Flores was not going to be chosen for the job. In the words of Stephen Colbert, “that’s the story of how Brian Daboll got listed in Bill Belichick’s phone as ‘White Brian.’” What’s more, Flores also says that Ross, the Dolphins owner, had attempted to bribe him to purposely lose games, and then fired him when he continually refused (despite Flores having just led the team through two winning seasons).

This is not to say that I’m certain Flores will win this lawsuit or that it won’t be dismissed by a judge. After all, recent efforts at racial justice reform (such as replacing the Minneapolis Police Department whose officer killed George Floyd) since the summer of 2020 have failed for the most part. How much hope is realistic?

It’s pretty clear that none of these events would have happened if Flores was white, which makes this case about more than just football. The NFL, with its white-dominated power structure and history of resisting dissent, especially on race issues, is reminiscent of many other large institutions. This lawsuit is about racial discrimination in the NFL, but I see it as more than that. It’s a high-profile challenge to an institution that is currently upholding the racist social fabric of the country, and maybe it will inspire more change in this sector and others that acknowledge that policies aren’t enough.

Flores’s NPR interview goes into detail about his thoughts leading up to his filing of the lawsuit. He makes powerful statements about how he is often perceived as an “angry Black man” and affirms that “this isn’t about me,” referring to all the implications the suit has against the entirety of the NFL and the sports world in general. Flores also discusses why the league needs to become an inclusive environment, in which those owners, coaches, and other members who do not support reforms must leave. 

This Black History Month, let’s reflect upon where we are as a nation with race and racism and seriously consider what we need to do to fix our broken system. Of course, I’m a white college student that obviously has no experience with anything like what Flores is going through, but I will go out on a limb and say that this lawsuit has some potential to kick off alterations of our racist large institutions, whether they be sports leagues, universities, corporations, halls of political power, or any others. Because our justice system is so flawed, I’m not getting my hopes up for Flores to win, but I would at least recommend watching this case and seeing where it goes. Remember that this represents so much more than just football, and maybe, just maybe, something will change.