Dolphins head coach Brian Flores watches the game from the...

Dolphins head coach Brian Flores watches the game from the sidelines during the first half of an NFL game against the Ravens on Nov. 11, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Credit: AP/Wilfredo Lee

Brian Flores understands the risk. He knows what he did late Tuesday afternoon might signal the end of his career as an NFL head coach, that he could effectively become persona non grata the way Colin Kaepernick wound up for speaking out on social justice issues.

But he felt he had to do it anyway, that the league’s shoddy record on diversity hiring and his dealings with the Dolphins before being fired left him no choice but to sue the NFL.

"In making the decision to file the class action complaint today, I understand that I may be risking coaching the game that I love and that has done so much for my family and me," he said in a statement released shortly after his bombshell lawsuit was filed in New York federal court. "My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come."

Flores named the league, the Dolphins, Giants, Broncos specifically and the other 29 teams in general as defendants, and alleges that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered to pay him $100,000 for every loss in 2019 to get a higher draft pick in 2020. Flores also charges that Ross attempted to have him recruit a quarterback who was under contract to another team, which is a blatant violation of the NFL’s tampering policy.

And he claims the Giants had already made up their minds to hire Brian Daboll, the Bills’ offensive coordinator, before Flores was interviewed late last week. As evidence, he shared a text he received from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, his former boss in New England, congratulating him on getting the Giants’ job. Only the text was meant for Daboll, not Flores.

These are all very, very serious charges that would be foundation-shaking developments if proved true in court. And Flores believes that by filing a class-action suit, others will eventually join in.

Not surprisingly, the NFL vigorously denied the claims, and the Giants disputed Flores’ version of events in a statement.

Complaint: Brian Flores vs. NFL, Giants, Dolphins, Broncos and "John Doe" teams

"The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations," the league said.

The NFL will obviously fight the lawsuit, and a settlement is certainly a possibility. But the fact that Flores dared to challenge the system through the courts represents a significant increase in the kind of pressure being brought to bear. Many have paid lip service to the league’s poor record on diversity hiring, but the fact remains there is only one Black coach in today’s NFL – Mike Tomlin of the Steelers. Flores was fired after three years on the job, which included two winning seasons, and David Culley of the Texans was fired after one season. With nine openings this year, no African American coaches have been hired.

Flores has challenged the effectiveness of the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to speak with at least two diverse candidates in the first round of interviews and hold at least one in-person interview. He claims, as others have over the years, that the interviews are essentially a sham, since owners can fulfill the rule without being serious about hiring minority coaches.

It was the threat of a lawsuit from prominent attorneys Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri that led to the creation of the Rooney Rule in 2003, a requirement named after former Steelers owner Dan Rooney, a major proponent of improving the league’s minority hiring. That rule has seen mixed results over the years, and Flores’ suit might lead to even further enhancements of the policy.

Even if it doesn’t, it sure places greater emphasis on an issue that is clearly a problem. NFL rosters are made up of approximately 70 percent African-American players, yet the representation on the head coaching level is simply not what it needs to be. No one is saying give anyone a job just because of their skin color. But what Flores and others are saying is that deserving candidates of color must have a fairer shot. It simply hasn't happened often enough, and it needs to change.

He may or may not win his case, but make no mistake. Owners are paying attention. And he can only hope that if he has shut the door on his own head coaching career, he can open the door for others.

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