This week’s bombshell racial discrimination class-action lawsuit by Brian Flores leveled at the National Football League, the Miami Dolphins and other entities raised a number of important concerns, mainly centered on the recruitment (and interview) practices associated with coaching and managerial positions.
The Dolphins fired Flores last month, and he was rejected for new jobs with other teams. The New York Giants have just named a white coach, and Flores asserts that the team made that decision even before he was interviewed. His suit says he was “humiliated in the process as the New York Giants subjected him to a sham interview in an attempt to appear to provide a Black candidate with a legitimate chance at obtaining the job.”
He is to be credited for taking such a bold stand, one that he knew could leave him banished from the game he loves. But if allegations are found to be valid, the reverberations will be loud and lasting — especially if policies are enacted to make the changes he and his colleagues deem fit. Sadly, this is not the first time this issue has been raised.
In the 1970s, there were growing calls for the NFL to hire a Black head coach. The NFL commissioner at the time suggested that he had urged team owners to hire a Black head coach, if someone qualified could be found. One of us was commissioned by the National Football Players Association in 1980, at the behest of NFLPA President Gene Upshaw and Executive Director Ed Garvey, to study “in a systematic way the managerial recruitment practices in the National Football League over the past two decades.” The long and short of that study was that, over and above objective qualifications, race exerted both a direct and indirect effect on recruitment to both head and assistant coaching positions.
Despite the findings of this study, which was followed by congressional oversight hearings and sustained news coverage of the absence of Black head coaches, it was not until 1989 that Art Shell was hired by the Oakland Raiders as the first Black head coach in the modern era of professional football. Decades later, a related study of all active coaches in the NFL between the 2000 and 2006 seasons revealed once again the significant direct effects of race. Black candidates were less likely to be (a) assigned to coach central positions, (b) appointed as offensive or defensive coordinators and (c) hired as head coaches — independent of other important qualifications including experience, leadership and performance.
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The issue of sport and racial justice also spills out into the stands and on couches around the country. One of us has examined public perceptions associated with three inter-related issues with respect to racial issues in the NFL. In one study concerning attitudes toward protesting the national anthem during NFL games, we found that Black respondents were more likely to support all types of anthem protests and to believe that players who did protests should not be disciplined by the NFL nor team owners.
In a second study exploring attitudes toward former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, we observed yet again another racial divide, with Blacks being more likely to agree with Nike’s decision to use him in their advertisements, that the company should address social issues in their ads, and that Nike should contribute to his charity. And in another study exploring the case of quarterback Michael Vick who pled guilty to charges of operating an illegal dog-fighting ring, we found that white respondents were more likely to view Michael Vick’s punishment as too soft and that he should not be reinstated, while non-whites had the opposite views.
Let us be clear. We are both avid sports fans — especially football fans. The game unites people from all walks of life. Cheering one’s team for three hours on a Sunday afternoon cuts across sex, race, ethnicity, political orientation, and just about any other line. Let us hope that whatever the outcome of Brian Flores’ lawsuit is, that it helps to move all of us in a path forward to move the needle with respect to race not just within the NFL, but within our nation.
Of course, we are not so naïve to believe that what we hope for will happen without facing many headwinds. But we would be worse off if we did not try.
Jomills H. Braddock II is a professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Miami. His email is: Braddock@miami.edu
Alex R. Piquero is chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminology and Arts & Sciences Distinguished Scholar at the University of Miami. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @DrAlexPiquero