Less than a month after Brian Flores’ class-action lawsuit against the league and multiple teams for their alleged racist hiring practices wasn’t mentioned at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s annual press conference at the Super Bowl — where he was pressed again about the lack of diversity in the NFL and NFL Media Group — it appears we’ve arrived at a moment in which the league might have to resolve things in private or risk being exposed in public.
Given that the NFL settled its case with Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid when racism was at the core of that situation, the smartest move for a league with its reputation and history — that’s being represented by a Black person (Loretta Lynch) — would be to draft an airtight nondisclosure agreement and cut a fat check.
I’m praying that sense remains uncommon, and that the league and these owners are stupid enough to buck the assumed counsel of the person they hired to help them out of this mess. Besides, the dude who owns Twitter has proven that wealth and intelligence are sold separately.
On Wednesday, a New York judge decided that some parts of Flores’ claims can be pursued in open court and not in arbitration. Last fall, Flores’ lawyers alleged racial bias against the NFL as the league wanted things to move to arbitration. The league desired that option because things would be behind closed doors, and it would mean that Goodell would be the arbitrator. Flores’ lawyers wrote that arbitration would allow “unconscionably biased one-sided ‘kangaroo courts’” to decide the outcome.
This news adds more momentum to Flores’ case, as Steve Wilks and Ray Horton joined him in the lawsuit. After being fired as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Flores spent last season as an assistant in Pittsburgh and is now the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings. Wilks was the interim head coach of the Carolina Panthers, but wasn’t hired after the season despite team owner David Tepper claiming that he was trying to eradicate the league’s “old boys network.” Horton is coaching in the USFL.
Judge Valerie Caproni’s ruling does cite that the specifics about individual coaching contracts and if they were properly signed are headed to arbitration. However, she also wrote that the case has shined “an unflattering spotlight on the employment practices of National Football League,” and that “Although the clear majority of professional football players are Black, only a tiny percentage of coaches are Black.”
“We are pleased that Coach Flores’ class claims of systematic discrimination against the NFL and several teams will proceed in court and ultimately before a jury of his peers,” Flores’ lawyers said in a statement. “We are disappointed the court compelled arbitration of any claims before Mr. Goodell as he is obviously biased and unqualified to rule on these matters. We expect him to delegate those matters to a truly neutral arbitrator as a matter of fundamental fairness. We look forward to pursuing all these claims to trial in their various forums.”
But wait, there’s more
According to the Associated Press, Caproni also wrote “that the descriptions by the coaches of their experiences of racial discrimination in a league with a ‘long history of systematic discrimination toward Black players, coaches, and managers — are incredibly troubling.’” The report goes on to say that the judge found it “difficult to understand” how there was only one Black head coach at the time Flores filed his lawsuit in a league of 32 teams with Black players making up about 70 percent of the rosters. The judge will also retain her authority to review Goodell’s decision if he is the arbitrator.
The NFL and its owners are the sole reason they’re in this position. By being unfair to Black employees — particularly Black coaches — for decades and opting not to settle this case out of court for over a year, they’ve painted themselves into a corner.
Last February, Brian Flores got on national television and told CBS Mornings, “We’re at a fork in the road right now. We’re either gonna keep it the way it is, or we’re gonna go in another direction and actually make some real change.” I hope he’s a man of his word. Because taking the assumed settlement that’s more than likely coming would be the easy way out. Turning it down for a chance to obliterate this system in open court should be the only goal. Besides, he’s already come this far. Might as well finish the job.