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NFL Flagged for False Start on Rooney Rule

by | Feb 4, 2022 | Employment Law, Race Discrimination |

Back in 2020, the National Football League (NFL) had its teams paint social messages in the back of their end zones.  Among them was the phrase “End Racism.”  Nearly two years later, the NFL is realizing that racism can’t be stenciled away.  On Tuesday this week, a federal class action lawsuit was filed against the NFL for violations of state and federal anti-discrimination laws.  According to the Complaint, the “NFL remains rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of Black Head Coaches, Coordinators and General Managers.”  The Complaint, which is headed by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores, pulls no punches in its description of systemic racism in the NFL:

“In certain critical ways, the NFL is racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation. Its 32 owners—none of whom are Black—profit substantially from the labor of NFL players, 70% of whom are Black. The owners watch the games from atop NFL stadiums in their luxury boxes, while their majority-Black workforce put their bodies on the line every Sunday, taking vicious hits and suffering debilitating injuries to their bodies and their brains while the NFL and its owners reap billions of dollars.”

The Complaint supports this claim of systemic racism with the following statistics:

  • Only 1 of the NFL’s 32 teams (3%) employs a Black Head Coach;
  • Only 4 of the NFL’s 32 teams (12%) employ a Black Offensive Coordinator;
  • Only 11 of the NFL’s 32 teams (34%) employ a Black Defensive Coordinator;
  • Only 8 of the NFL’s 32 teams (25%) employ a Black Special Teams Coordinator;
  • Only 3 of the NFL’s 32 teams (9%) employ a Black Quarterback Coach; and
  • Only 6 of the NFL’s 32 teams (19%) employ a Black General Manager.

At the heart of the complaint is “the Rooney Rule,” which requires NFL Teams to interview at least one Black person for any Head Coach, General Manager, Assistant Head Coach, Coordinator, or front office positions.  According to the Complaint, the Rooney Rule has been a failure because “management is not doing the interviews in good-faith.”  In support of this, the Complaint alleges that Mr. Flores was offered a sham interview for Head Coach of the New York Giants, when in reality they had already selected a white man for the position.  Flores also alleges that he was given a similar sham interview with the Denver Broncos.   The Complaint alleges various other examples of racism in the NFL as well.

In addition to punitive damages, Flores is asking for the following injunctive relief:

  1. The creation of a committee dedicated to sourcing Black investors to take majority ownership stakes in NFL Teams;
  2. That Black players and coaches be permitted to participate in the interview process for General Manager, Head Coach, and Offensive/Defensive Coordinator positions;
  3. That NFL teams be required to reduce to writing the rationale for hiring and termination decisions, including a full explanation of the basis for any subjective influences;
  4. That NFL Teams be required to consider side-by-side comparisons of objective criteria, such as past performance, experience and objective qualifications; and
  5. The creation of a training program for lower-level Black coaches who demonstrate an aptitude for coaching and an interest in advancing to a Coordinator position.

The class action complaint, which was filed on the first day of Black History Month, was brought in federal district court under Section 1981, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and ethnicity when making and enforcing contracts (42. U.S.C. § 1981).  Flores’ Complaint offers some compelling examples of disparate treatment and systemic racism.  As evidence that Flores’ interview was pre-determined to fail, the Complaint provides a text exchange with Patriots coach Bill Belichick.  Belichick, who mistakenly believed he was texting Brain Daboll, the white head coach chosen by the Giants, texted Flores that the Giants were giving him the job.  When Belichick realized he texted the wrong Brian, he wrote, “Sorry – I fucked this up…they are naming Daboll. I’m sorry about that.”  Flores also provides a list of examples where the Rooney Rule’s requirements were treated as a formality to circumvent, so that a pre-determined white coach could be hired.

The NFL, and the teams implicated in Flores’ Complaint, have denied the allegations.

Thatcher Zavaro & Mani will continue to report on this class action as it unfolds.  If you have questions about race discrimination, or any other area of employment law, contact Thatcher Zavaro & Mani at 301-850-1246www.ThatcherLaw.com.  Follow us on: