In February 2022, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores sued the NFL and four teams alleging that the league was rife with racism, specifically with regard to hiring and promoting Black coaches. Two others joined his lawsuit, and the football organization sought to take the case to arbitration. But on Wednesday (March 1), a federal judge cleared the way for Flores to bring his claims to trial.
Judge Valerie Caproni wrote that the descriptions of their experiences in an environment with a “long history of systematic discrimination toward Black players, coaches, and managers” were “incredibly troubling,” per The Associated Press. She pointed out it was “difficult to understand” how there was only one Black head coach at the time Flores filed his lawsuit despite Black players making up approximately 70 percent of the 32 teams’ rosters. Flores, the first Afro-Latino in such a position in the institution’s history, was joined in his suit by Steve Wilks and Ray Horton.
Still, she ruled that while a jury can decide the merits of Flores’ claims against the league and three other teams, he must pursue his claims against his old squad, the Miami Dolphins, through arbitration possibly headed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Similarly, she found that the claims brought by Wilks and Horton must also go through mediation. While the case shined “an unflattering spotlight on the employment practices of National Football League” teams, she cited specific details about individual contracts and whether they were properly signed as the reason for kicking it (no pun intended) to the individual parties to sort out.
“We are pleased that Coach Flores’ class claims of systematic discrimination against the NFL and several teams will proceed in court and ultimately before a jury of his peers,” attorney Douglas Wigdor said of the outcome, per the AP.
“We are disappointed the court compelled arbitration of any claims before Mr. Goodell as he is obviously biased and unqualified to rule on these matters,” he added. “We expect him to delegate those matters to a truly neutral arbitrator as a matter of fundamental fairness.”