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2 former coaches join Brian Flores in his discrimination suit against the NFL

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores watches a play during the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores watches a play during the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Two former NFL coaches have now joined former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores in his lawsuit alleging he faced racial discrimination within the league.

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, a former defensive coordinator who was a head coach candidate for the Tennessee Titans, are now plaintiffs in Flores's class-action lawsuit.

Defendants include the NFL, the Dolphins, the Titans, the Cardinals, the Denver Broncos, the Houston Texans and 29 teams listed as "John Doe."

"This class-action lawsuit was and remains long overdue," the lawsuit says. "The NFL — left to its own devices to police itself — has continually failed to address the massive imbalance and underrepresentation of Black coaches and executives."

Flores alleges in the suit that the NFL is racially segregated and "managed much like a plantation," being that the league's players are 70% Black, but none of its 32 team owners are Black.

The complaint says that Wilks was hired as a "bridge coach" and did not have the tools to succeed.

Wilks was fired after one season, after the Cardinals went 3-13, and replaced by a white coach, Kliff Kingsbury, who had no prior NFL coaching experience and had a consistent losing record coaching Texas Tech University, according to the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the complaint said, current Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was suspended after being charged with a DUI, but still kept his job.

Wilks also alleges he is owed money from the remaining three years left on his contract.

Horton was considered for the Titans head coach in 2016, but the team had already hired someone, the complaint says, and Horton was only granted an interview to comply with the league's Rooney Rule, an initiative established in 2003 in which at least two "external minorities" must be interviewed for head coaching positions.

The man who was ultimately hired, Mike Mularkey, reportedly said in a 2020 podcast interview that the team "told me I was going to be the head coach in 2016, before they went through the Rooney Rule. And so I sat there knowing I was the head coach in 2016, as they went through this fake hiring process knowing a lot of the coaches that they were interviewing, knowing how much they prepared to go through those interviews, knowing that everything they could do and they had no chance to get that job."

According to the complaint, he also said: "I regret it, 'cause I pride myself and my kids first to do the right thing, and I always said that to the players. And here I am the head guy not doing it, and I regretted it since then."

Flores, Wilks and Horton are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for all Black head coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators and quarterback coaches as well as general managers and Black candidates for those positions.

The lawsuit also outlines several points of change within the league, including a committee that would seek out Black team owners, incentives for hiring and retaining Black employees and the banning of forced arbitration for claims of discrimination or retaliation made against the NFL.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie
[Copyright 2024 NPR]