Two more NFL coaches joined former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores’ class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed earlier this year, alleges racial discrimination within the league’s hiring processes.
The lawsuit comes as the NFL has added a specific hiring mandate to the Rooney Rule. The mandate requires each franchise to hire a minority or female offensive assistant.
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Steve Wilks and Ray Horton join the lawsuit
Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks alleges the Arizona Cardinals discriminated against him in 2018. And longtime defensive coach Ray Horton claims he faced discriminatory treatment when interviewing for the Tennessee Titans head coach position in 2016.
Wilks claims the Cardinals treated him as a “bridge coach” and gave him no meaningful opportunity to succeed, as he coached a rookie quarterback and had no general manager in the preseason.
Wilks was fired after only one year. Wilks says current Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury “has been given a much longer leash than Mr. Wilks and, to his credit, has succeeded.”
Horton claims he received a “sham interview” with the Titans in 2016. He believes the team had already decided on Mike Mularkey to fill the head coach vacancy.
Horton’s complaint cites a 2020 podcast interview with Mularkey in which he described his hiring experience with the Titans.
“I allowed myself at one point when I was in Tennessee to get caught up in something I regret, and I still regret it[.] But the ownership there, Amy Adams Strunk and her family, came in and 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, 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.”
Flores’ original lawsuit
In February, Flores filed a class-action lawsuit in New York against the NFL and three of its franchises. The suit alleges racial discrimination within the league’s teams’ hiring processes which was in violation of:
- Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866
- The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination
- New York State Human Rights Law
- And New York City Human Rights Law
Despite two consecutive winning seasons, the first since 2001 for the franchise, the Miami Dolphins fired Flores following the 2021 season.
He now contends that the New York Giants interviewed him as a simple move to satisfy the Rooney Rule. And he’s now seeking unspecified economic and punitive damages along with injunctive relief “to cure Defendants’ discriminatory policies and practices.”
Flores said in a statement:
“God had gifted me with a special talent to coach the game of football[.] But the need for change is bigger than my personal goals. In making the decision to file the (complaint), I understand that I may be risking coaching the game that I love[.] And that has done so much for my family and me. My sincere hope is that by standing up against system racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come.”
The NFL, diversity and the Rooney Rule
Following recommendations by the league’s Workplace Diversity Committee in 2003, the NFL adopted the Rooney Rule. The NFL named the rule after then chairman of the committee, Dan Rooney, the late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Rooney Rule initially focused on the historically low number of minorities in head coaching positions within the league. The policy originally required each team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one “diverse candidate before making a new hire.”
Throughout the years, the Rooney Rule has expanded its provisions:
- 2009: The NFL amended the rule to include general manager positions. Requiring each team to interview a minimum of two external minority candidates.
- 2020: Franchise owners approved an amendment to the rule rewarding teams who had minority staff members go on to become GMs or head coaches within the league.
- 2021: The NFL approved changes requiring each team with open head coach positions to interview at least one external minority candidate for a coordinator position. This amendment also required the NFL to interview at least one minority and/or female candidate for senior-level positions.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the most recent update “bolster(s) the current Rooney Rule requirements and are intended to create additional opportunities for diverse candidates to be identified, interviewed, and ultimately hired when a vacancy becomes available.”