The National Football League consists of 32 team owned by extremely wealthy people who are mostly white and male and so one would not expect them to be the most ethical of people in terms of the way they do business or the most enlightened when it comes to issues of race. This has already been demonstrated in the way they responded to Colin Kaepernick and the issue of racist team names and mascots. During the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, they felt pressured to at least say the right things about racism but it seemed to be the minimal amount that that they could get away with.
American football is a game in which the head coach plays an outsize role in the team’s performance, calling the plays, deciding who is does what, and so on. It is telling that although 70% of the players are black, there is currently only one black head coach. There has been an overwhelming majority of black players for a long time, long enough for large numbers of them to have worked their way through the ranks of player, assistant coach, offensive and defensive coordinator, to finally head coach, so the lack of more black coaches speaks to a real problem. While black coaches have been hired, they are usually hired by struggling teams and their tenure tends to be short-lived. Furthermore, while white coaches who fail with a team and are fired are given multiple opportunities with several other teams as either head coaches or coordinators, black coaches often have just one shot.
Brian Flores’ experience was typical. He was hired in 2019 as head coach by the Miami Dolphins who had been terrible for some time.. He led the team to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2003, and in the latest season won seven of the last eight games but was then fired by the owner Steven Ross.
Flores is now suing the NFL. He is alleging that the rot goes deeper than simply treating black coaches badly. He also says that the owner asked him to violate NFL rules about ‘tampering’, where you try to recruit players from other teams outside the window of allowability for such actions. He refused to do that.
He also says that the owner asked him to deliberately lose games, and offered him a bribe of $100,000 for each game he lost, something else that he refused to do. Why ask the coach of your own team to lose? Because the NFL, in its attempt to maintain parity among teams, gives the teams with the worst season records the best picks for the following year’s draft of new players. But Flores won seven of the last eight games, and this must have infuriated the owner. If anyone deliberately lost games because they were gamblers and had placed bets that benefited them because of that result, that would be a major scandal. It is not clear to me why doing so to get better draft picks is treated less severely by the NFL.
He also says that he was invited for interviews with other teams when it was clear that they were interviewing him in order to merely fulfill the letter of something called the ‘Rooney rule’ in the NFL that at least one minority candidate should be interviewed for a coaching position. The way that sham was exposed was laughable if the whole thing were not so serious.
Stephen Colbert had one of the best explanations of what happened. It runs from the 2:48 to the 8:20 mark where he describes the whole sordid affair.
Serious athletes are competitive people who like to win. To ask them to deliberately lose would stick in their craw and one can understand why Flores did not go along, even if the demand came from the owner. Furthermore one of the key metrics by which coaches are judged is their won-loss record. If he had deliberately lost games, Flores would have hurt his own reputation as a coach.
Dan Spinelli exposes another problem in the NFL: rampant nepotism.
A decade ago, there were eight Black head coaches; now there is just one. Part of the problem may be the rampant nepotism throughout the coaching ranks. Nearly 15 percent of NFL coaches are related to a current or former coach, according to an analysis by the website Defector. The Defector report cited NFL data showing that more than 25 percent of head coaches are the “son or father of a current or former NFL coach (including coordinators and position coaches).”
You should know you have a problem when there are more NFL head coaches named “Matt” (3) than there are Black head coaches.
Flores is only 40 years old. He could have had another 30 years as a coach if he had been white. By suing the NFL, he is burning his bridges, just like Kaepernick did, for a higher cause, to show that it is corrupt and racist.
Correction: “The National Football League consists of 31 teams owned by extremely wealthy people, and the Green Bay Packers.”
That said, I’m sure the toxic culture is no better in Green Bay.
For an interesting comparison just look to the north, to the Canadian Football League (CFL). Of the 9 teams, 2 have black head coaches. There is also a black general manager, assistant general manager, and president of football operations.There is also a longer and much wider history of black starting quarterbacks in the CFL than in the NFL.
Another big difference is that the coaching ranks are full of former CFL players -- 6 of the 9 head coaches, for example, are former players. That by itself opens up more opportunities for black coaches.There seems to be much more of a mentoring role between coaches and older players who are looking to get into coaching after retirement. Much less of the old boys clubs that seems to carry on in the NFL.
Deepak Shetty says
As an outsider, looking in, its because the general culture believes “Winning” matters more than anything else . If you game the system and win -- you are smart .Look at the attitude towards paying taxes for e.g.
Following on your observations, I remembered reading the article linked below, which discusses a lot of the structural issues that contribute to keeping the number of Black coaches in the NFL low. One of the observations was exactly what you mentioned, that the NFL seems to hire a lot fewer ex-players as coaches. Having played in college is a very common background, but not NFL playing experience. In fact, delaying the start of a coaching career until after a playing career ends puts you way behind the curve.
Pierce R. Butler says
Why ask the coach of your own team to lose?
Paging Mel Brooks! Mel Brooks, Zero Mostel, and Gene Wilder to the white courtesy phones, please…
“deliberately losing games because to get better draft picks”
In my European eyes this is a weird side effect of the American competition system, that doesn’t know promotion and relegation.
I’ve been a fan of the Detroit Pistons (well, not really fanatical) but last ten years NBA has been rather boring for me.
Almost forgot: Flores is a hero. Football (the global version) can use some people like that.