During his first preseason as the Miami Dolphins’ head coach, in 2019, Brian Flores spoke with emotion about social injustice he came across as a young Black and Latino man in the troubled Brownsville part of Brooklyn.
Referring to athletes such as Kenny Stills, then a Dolphins receiver, and ousted quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Flores said he praised those who protested against racial inequality and police brutality.
“They bring attention to my story,” Flores, the son of Honduran immigrants, told reporters. “I am the son of immigrants. I’m Black. I grew up poor. I grew up in New York during the stop-and-go era. I was stopped because I previously fit a description. So everything that these guys are protesting, I lived it, I experienced it. ”
Flores, who was sacked by the Dolphins last month, despite a winning record in two of his three seasons as head coach, and later experienced what he described as a “sham” interview with the Giants, Flores now considers himself stopped is – or at least reversed – again because it fits a certain description.
On Tuesday, Flores, who turns 41 this month, filed a class action lawsuit, and accuses the NFL of systemic racism by discriminating against him and other Black coaches in his hiring practices. In a league of 32 teams in which about 70 percent of the players are black, only one current head coach – Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers – is Black.
Nine teams had head coaches in this year’s appointment cycle, and of the six teams that have already made an appointment or apparently decided on one, the job went to a white man.
Harry Edwards, the prominent sociologist and social activist who has been a longtime consultant to the San Francisco 49ers, said: “We stand on the precipice of having more African-Americans in the United States Supreme Court than as head coaches in the United States. NFL, that’s outrageous. “
Flores’ lawyers did not make him available for an interview. He has said in several television appearances that real change will not come from policy decisions, but only through the change of “the hearts and minds” of the NFL’s top team owners. Only two are not white – Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars, a Pakistani American, and Kim Pegula of Buffalo, a Korean American who owns the Bills with her husband, Terry.
Some who have known Flores for many years, including Dino Mangiero, his high school coach at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, say he has long had a finely honed sense of moral purpose. Mangiero described Flores as “serious as a heart attack” and “a man of principle who, if he feels something is not right, he will not stand for it.”
“I think all he’s looking for is a sincere shot,” said Mangiero, 63, who played six seasons in the NFL and recently signed to coach Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches, Florida. “I am very proud of him. He stands up for what he believes in. It takes a lot of courage. His career is at stake, no doubt about it.”
While Flores was staring at an uncertain future, the friends he had kept with Poly Prep since his days gathered around him. Clifton Coker, who, like Flores, attended private school through a scholarship program for promising student-athletes, said Flores relied on mentors and tried to do things the right way to achieve his career goals. “For something not to feel right, and in the direction he was taught to believe, it’s discouraging,” Coker said.
After graduating from Boston College, where a leg injury ended any slim hopes of playing in the NFL as a safety or linebacker, Flores joined the New England Patriots’ staff in 2004. He started as a scouting assistant, transporting players to and from the airport, picking up dry cleaning, sleeping on an air mattress in a friend’s attic.
But even then, Scott Pioli, then-England’s vice-president of player staff, saw Flores’ leadership. Before the Super Bowl in 2019, Pioli, who was then leaving New England, said he jokingly called Flores “the union leader” and “Jimmy Hoffa”. If any of the reconnaissance assistants had a problem or a question, Flores brought it with Pioli.
Nate Solder, who won two Super Bowls in New England as an attacking diver and who recently played for the Giants, recalled Flores’ sense of fairness in an interview. Once, Solder said, Flores put the Patriots’ veteran offensive line into practice by placing his foot on the ball and disrupting the hurried attack so he could set up the reconnaissance team defense.
“I would spare the language, but it was intense,” Solder said. “It was like, ‘I’ll fight you over this. I do not care. I’m going to do it right. “
During a practice camp rehearsal in 2019, Flores famously played eight consecutive songs by Brooklyn-born Jay-Z after Stills criticized the rapper as tone deaf when he entered into an entertainment and social justice partnership with the NFL, Jay-Z said the league moved “past kneeling” for the national anthem, which irritated Stills, who did kneel in protest against racial inequalities.
Flores has received some criticism, including from the editorial page of The Miami Heraldwho compared his choice of music to “a smirking taunt, giving the back of his hand to a real-life American plague” of police brutality.
Flores was inexcusable and said he challenged Stills not to allow the outside world to influence his performance. His own sense of sincerity, Flores said in 2019, shortly before his mother, Maria, died of breast cancer, was sharpened by her unwavering values. Maria Flores raised five sons while the family patriarch, Raul sr., Was away for months at a time as a merchant navy.
Education was paramount. Four of the Flores brothers and sisters, including Brian, earned master’s degrees. His mother, he said, apparently never backed down, even when she and her children had to walk up 20 stairs, sometimes with groceries, when the elevators at the Glenmore Plaza housing complex in Brownsville broke down.
“She has influenced me in an extremely positive way on how to treat people and how to lead with honor and integrity and always do things the right way,” Flores said.
He spent 15 seasons on the Patriots’ staff, became the defensive playmaker, and was part of four Super Bowl championship teams. Then at the age of 37, he was hired by the Dolphins, and at the time became one of only three Black head coaches. Since the so-called Rooney Rule was enacted in 2003 to encourage more inclusive appointments, 27 of the 127 available head coaches in the NFL, or about 21 percent, have been filled by people of color, according to The Associated Press.
At 40, Flores was fired. Stephen Ross, the team owner, said, “an organization can only function if it works together and works well together.” Flores apparently had a strained relationship with Chris Grier, the Dolphins’ general manager, and Tua Tagovailoa, the team’s starting full-back. Not every player liked his intense style of coaching.
In television interviews since his dismissal, Flores has spoken with a sense of betrayal and used words such as humiliation, disbelief, hurt, anger. According to him, the classic immigrant insurance that his mother gave him – work hard and opportunities will come – has been distorted.
Ross put pressure on him to refuel the 2019 season for a better first-round draft pick, offering him $ 100,000 for each defeat, a proposal he turned down, Flores said in his lawsuit. And he quoted text messages he said were sent by his former boss, New England coach Bill Belichick, on January 24th. In the messages, Belichick appeared to congratulate Flores on his appointment as the Giants’ coach, a job he has not yet had. January 27 interview for. The messages apparently indicated that Belichick intended the correspondence for another Brian – Brian Daboll, who is white and has been hired by the Giants.
Ross calls Flores’ allegations “false, malicious and defamatory.” The Giants said Thursday that they have “concrete and objective evidence” that their coaching decision was not taken until the day after Flores conducted an interview, and that his allegations are “disturbing and merely false.” But some other former Black coaches in the NFL, Hue Jackson and Marvin Lewis, spoke of the notoriety of Flores’ despair. And Solder, who is white, was among players who tweeted in support of Flores.
“I have no doubt what he describes is completely accurate,” Solder said in an interview.
Legal experts say Flores’ case will be difficult to win unless he can prove race was a factor in being turned down for work.
Edwards, the sociologist, said it looked likely that Flores would experience the same resistance that Curt Flood, the St. Louis Cardinals center fielder who lost his legal challenge in the 1970s to reverse Major League Baseball’s reserve clause, which bound players to one team for their entire careers. Free agency has finally come, but on a large professional and personal costs for Flood.
And now Flores runs the risk of not coaching again.
“We are so caught up in racism and the traditions of exclusion and turning those who oppose it into martyrs, that we say it is an expected price to stand up for,” Edwards said.
Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, described Flores as “the coaching equivalent of Kaepernick,” and said he could not see Flores getting another coaching job in the short term. offered, possibly ever. .
But, Lapchick added in a more hopeful tone, athlete activism that intensified during the racial reckoning that followed the assassination of George Floyd in May 2020 could draw his attention to the hiring practices of college and professional teams.
“Not that they will demand that they appoint a Black coach,” Lapchick said, “but that they open up the process to ensure there is a fair process, which usually ends with more diverse candidates and more diverse choices. . “
Sheelagh McNeill research has contributed.