Brian Flores lead the Miami Dolphins to a second consecutive winning season with a 9-8 record in 2022–the team’s first-string since 2003. And then, he was abruptly fired with reports of a power struggle behind the scenes. Surely a coach with a winning record would get one of the eight head coaching openings this offseason. Well. No. Flores went around the league and interviewed, but some ultimately went with other candidates.
For Black men, Flores’s class-action lawsuit alleging racism in the NFL is no surprise and confirms what we see in sports and the real world. As a Black man, you have to be impeccable, and even then, that still may not be enough for you to get recognition. Eighteen years since The Rooney Rule was enacted, there is only one black head coach currently.
Mike Tomin, the current coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has never had a losing record in 15 seasons and also won a Super Bowl. Even despite his achievements, Tomin was asked if he would take a college job this year. This man is the second longest-tenured coach in the NFL–why would he coach a college football team? Not to mention, his Steelers team would rally out of a slump and make the playoff this year in the wild card slot.
Even when Black coaches have shown themselves impressive, they have a shorter amount of time to do so and have their competency questioned when they run into the first bit of trouble. When Jason Garrett was the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, he had three 8-8 seasons before he got to 12-4 in 2014. Josh McDaniels, who was fined for taping practices, was just named head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.
Josh McCown, ex-QB with no head coaching experience, is in the lead for the Houston Texans job while firing Black coach David Culley, who had one of the worst rosters in the league. Bucs offensive coordinator Bryon Leftwich and Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienenmy have both won Super Bowls and helmed some of the top offensives in the league. Still not hired.
The Rooney Rule may have been well-intended when enacted in 2003, but it’s only there so that teams can satisfy an interview requirement as they hire the candidate they want. It’s a collective ownership group comprised of no Black people and only two people of color playing in our faces every year. The evolution of The Rooney Rule has no teeth to it at all –emphasizing interviews through a revolving door.
If you want to argue that owners can hire whomever, they want to, that’s fine. But let’s not act like the Rooney Rule will do anybody favors. The NFL will open games with “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and slap “stop hate” decals on helmets, but not adequately address the old racist contingent within the league. A sports league made up of 70% Black athletes should have more people who look like them at top positions.
Brian Flores and Colin Kaepernick are mirrors of hard American truths that the good-ole boys’ glass ceiling is as strong as ever. Kaepernick took a stand and has not been signed by a team since then. I hope the same fate doesn’t meet Flores’s coaching career, as Black people calling out racist practices shouldn’t result in never doing the things they love again. To progress, the NFL has to accept that The Rooney Rule has only widened inequalities, not helped stop them.