Brian Flores on suing the NFL for discrimination : The Limits with Jay Williams Brian Flores is not messing around. The former Miami Dolphins head coach was fired last month, and had his eyes set on the top job with the New York Giants. But a misdirected text from New England Patriots general manager Bill Belichick convinced Flores, who is Black and Latino, that the hiring process was rigged against him, and that race was a major factor. He responded to the NFL by filing a class-action lawsuit on Tuesday. He was one of only three Black head coaches in the NFL at the time of his firing, in a league that has a majority of Black players. The lawsuit accuses the league of systemic racism and discriminatory hiring practices. It's made for a whirlwind 48 hours for Flores, who did not come to the decision to take legal action lightly. And it's arguably a louder stand than when Colin Kaepernick took his knee and paid the price. In this episode of The Limits, host Jay Williams sits down with Flores to talk about the change he hopes to inspire in the NFL, and the sacrifices he's willing to make to see that change take flight. For sponsor-free episodes, weekly bonus content, and more, subscribe to The Limits Plus at plus.npr.org/thelimits. Follow Jay on Instagram and Twitter. Email us at thelimits@npr.org.The Limits is produced by Karen Kinney, Mano Sundaresan, Leena Sanzgiri, Barton Girdwood, Brent Baughman, Rachel Neel and Yolanda Sangweni. Music by Ramtin Arablouei. Our executive producer is Anya Grundmann. Special thanks to Charla Riggi and Erin Register.

Brian Flores on Taking a Stand Against the NFL

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JAY WILLIAMS, HOST:

Welcome to THE LIMITS. I'm Jay Williams. I'm sitting here with former NFL head coach Brian Flores. Last month, he was fired by the Miami Dolphins. He says it was because of his race. And earlier this week, he filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three of his teams - the Miami Dolphins, the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants. He alleges that these three teams and the entire NFL engaged in racist hiring practices and racial discrimination. He says he has a responsibility to speak out against his former employer. Brian, welcome to THE LIMITS.

BRIAN FLORES: Thank you for having me.

WILLIAMS: So I got to ask you, man, these past 48 hours seems like it's been quite a whirlwind. How have you emotionally been handling everything?

FLORES: It's been a tough 48 hours. Making a decision to file a lawsuit, I went back and forth on that. I did. I knew that it was - you know, it was a sacrifice that I was making. But I also felt like it was necessary. And this isn't about me. This is about, you know, something that's much bigger than me, which is a system in the NFL that, in my opinion, is broken as far as hiring practices for Black and minority coaches and minorities in general.

WILLIAMS: What cemented your decision? You say you were back and forth. What got you over that hump?

FLORES: Well, it was a text message from Bill Belichick that confirmed a lot of the things that I believed were going on for Blacks, minorities in the hiring process. That was the tipping point for me. And, you know, that confirmation was something that - I felt like I had to say something. I couldn't stay silent because, you know, Dr. Martin Luther King said, you know, a long, long time ago, there comes a time where silence becomes betrayal. I wasn't going to do that.

WILLIAMS: Take me back to Miami. Why were you fired?

FLORES: You know, when you have two back-to-back winning seasons, you don't really feel like that's, you know, when you're going to get fired. My son asked me, you know, what happened? You know, my son's - I have, you know, two sons and a daughter. My son Miles is 8. He'll be 9. My son Maxwell is 7. He'll be 8. My daughter just turned 5. So I was at a princess party a couple weekends ago - right in my element.

WILLIAMS: (Laughter).

FLORES: So my son, Miles, who's become a huge football fan - both my sons. He asked me - he goes, you know, what happened, dad? Why'd you get fired? And I said, son, most of the time, you know, you get fired when you fail. That's normally how this goes. So I couldn't give him a real answer. He's like, we didn't fail. I know we didn't fail. You know, they just didn't work out. My son, Maxwell, came home and said his friend from school - I don't want to say a name - but so-and-so's dad said you got fired because you're Black. So these are conversations I'm having to have with a, you know, 8- and 7-year-old. And those are tough conversations to have. But why? I think, you know, there were some strained relationships between myself, ownership because I wouldn't adhere to some of the things that they wanted me to do with the team that I felt were - was unethical.

WILLIAMS: Part of the tension between you and Stephen Ross, owner of the Dolphins, was that you were asked to tank games.

FLORES: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: You say he was willing to pay you $100,000 per game that you lost so that the Dolphins would then be able to be at the bottom of the league and get the first pick in the NFL draft. Crazy that first pick in the draft would have been Joe Burrow, who is now in the Super Bowl. With that being said, is there anyone that can corroborate your accusation?

FLORES: You know, without getting into specifics, you know, I'll say that other people are aware. Other people are aware.

WILLIAMS: And how did you handle that in that moment?

FLORES: Look - I grew up not too far from here. And I grew up in a housing project in Brooklyn not too far from here. My parents are immigrants. They came over to this country looking for the American dream, basically, for their children. And my mom was big on education, and I've got four brothers. And I worked hard to get to this spot. And football's opened a lot of doors for me - doors that, you know, would never have been open, you know - much like basketball was that for you. So to disrespect the game, you know, that's done so much for me was something that - you know, that was a tough conversation. And I voiced my opinion on why that would never happen, why I would never take part in anything like that. And I think if you heard my story, if you understood where I came from, understood the things that - the work that was put in to get into that position, you would understand why that would - I would react the way I did.

WILLIAMS: You say you refused to tank games and, because of that, you were casted as, quote, "an angry Black man." What's an example of that?

FLORES: Well, you know, I most certainly have a strong personality. I think you have to have that as a coach in the National Football League. I am - I'm demanding, and I challenge, and I address problems. And I challenge players and coaches and support staff to improve and get better. But white coaches do the exact same thing, and you never really hear the angry white man. I never - I don't - you don't hear that term very often. I think that's a picture you can paint. But if you walk around the Miami Dolphins building and you talk to the kitchen staff and talk to the field crew and talk to security and talk to IT and talk to equipment and medical, that's not what you're going to hear about Brian Flores from those people in that building.

WILLIAMS: I have a statement here from Dolphins' owner Stephen Ross. And he has responded to your allegations by saying, quote, "I take great personal exception to these malicious attacks, and the truth must be known. His allegations are false, malicious and defamatory. We understand there are media reports stating that the NFL intends to investigate his claims, and we will cooperate fully. I welcome that investigation, and I am eager to defend my personal integrity and the integrity and values of the entire Miami Dolphins organization from these baseless, unfair and disparaging claims." What's your reaction to that when you hear those words?

FLORES: Let's let it play out. One thing about me is - and you'll hear this from players, coaches - I tell people the truth, whether it's good or bad, and I think that's the way - the best way to operate - to deal in transparency. I say, let's just let it play out.

WILLIAMS: Has Stephen ever put you in a precarious situation?

FLORES: Yeah. I mean, we mentioned the tanking already. I mean, that's well-known. So I would say, if anything is a precarious situation, that's - that would be it, specifically. But I guess my thought on that is no one can really put you in a precarious situation because, at the end of the day, you either say yes or no. And if that means going against what some other people may want to do, if you feel like that's the right thing to do, then you stand on that and have peace about it. And I have a lot of peace.

WILLIAMS: All right, everybody. We're going to take a quick break. This is obviously deep and intense. We'll be right back with more with Brian Flores.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WILLIAMS: So you get fired from the Miami Dolphins. Your name is being floated around for a multitude of job opportunities, one being here for the New York Giants, which I'm a fan of, by the way. I was pushing for you to be here. I'll just be transparent about that. And so, Joe Schoen gets brought here to run the Giants as a GM from Buffalo, and you get a text message from Bill Belichick essentially congratulating you. Take me through that situation. Explain to me what happened.

FLORES: So the hiring process is - a lot that goes on. There's a lot of phone calls that are being had - agent, myself, teams. So I would say 10 minutes prior to the text message from Bill, I got a call from Joe Schoen saying, hey, we want to bring you in for an interview.

WILLIAMS: So you have not been in for an interview yet.

FLORES: I had not been in for an interview yet. I had just got a call that said, hey, we want to set up the interview for Thursday. So 10 minutes later, I get the text message from Bill saying - I don't have it in front of me, but - oh, it seems like you have landed. Congrats. And I know there was a back and forth. So in that moment, I'm elated. Wow. You know, Bill is having conversations with the Giants, and they must feel strongly about me.

WILLIAMS: And for people who don't know Bill Belichick...

FLORES: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: ...One of the greatest coaches of all time, general manager, coach of the New England Patriots - that was the player with Tom Brady - very informed. He would be more informed than any past normal person.

FLORES: Yeah, he's in the know.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

FLORES: He's in the know which, as we'll probably talk about afterwards, is probably a little bit of - part of the problem. So rereading the text and the Buffalo part of it was - I just didn't - that didn't make sense to me. So I asked him, is this - are you talking to Brian Flores or Brian Daboll? And I got the text message back saying - which said he misread the text, and Brian Daboll was going to be named the coach of the Giants. And this was three days before I would - I was going to interview.

WILLIAMS: You had not even interviewed for the opportunity yet. Meanwhile, the Giants organization already had somebody that they had picked that you're getting this information from Bill to secure the job.

FLORES: Yes, yes. And again, this isn't about me. My story is just an example - you know, one of probably many examples of situations where Black and minority coaches aren't getting the equal opportunity to interview, showcase their ability, showcase their acumen, showcase their leadership in front of these owners. I'm not sure Daboll had even gotten in front of them. But Blacks and minorities aren't given that opportunity, and it was confirmed to me that day.

WILLIAMS: It's interesting that Bill would be in the know to that degree. Why do you think that is?

FLORES: I do think that there are back-channel conversations, back-channel meetings that are had that oftentimes influence decisions. And I think that's a clear example of that. You know, here's Bill Belichick. And, you know, his resume speaks for itself. He has influence. I think, to me, that - it was clear that that decision was made with his influence, and that's part of the problem. And that's - that needs to change. There needs to be a fair and equal opportunity to interview and showcase - like I said before, showcase your abilities to lead and earn one of those positions.

WILLIAMS: How insulting is it for you, as a Black man, that there is something in place, like the Rooney Rule, in which teams are incentivized to hire Black candidates, but it's also mandatory that they check boxes and have to interview at least two Black head coaching candidates?

FLORES: It's unfortunate - you know? - that we can't just look at the qualifications of an individual and say, have an interview, talk to him, get to know him. And I understand the intent behind the Rooney Rule - to get more Black and minority faces in front of the owners. But look - there's a lot of good coaches, you know, in our league, and a lot of them are Black and minority. And they should get those opportunities.

WILLIAMS: Give me an example of how an individual like yourself could be insulted, right? So explain to me what happened during the Denver Broncos process.

FLORES: So, you know, in the Denver Broncos process, you know, I forget who they had interviewed. I go to the interview. I went into it feeling like this was a Rooney Rule interview. They didn't interview any other Black candidate, I don't believe. They were late to the interview.

WILLIAMS: How late?

FLORES: You know, 45 minutes to an hour - somewhere in there. So - text - hey, it's going to take a little bit. You know, we're not ready yet. We're not ready yet. No problem. I'll be down here. And, you know, look, when you sit in front of a group - look, I've been on nine interviews. There's notes. They're ready to go. You know, there's a system and process on how they're going to interview you that you feel like you're going through and a series of questions on this area, this area, this area. And, you know, this looked disheveled, looked like they were out of it - a couple of guys in particular. And, you know, I just felt like it was - you know, the decision had already been made. Now, like always, I always put my best foot forward, and I came out of there feeling like I impressed them and did well. But I did not, you know - I didn't feel like I was going to get that job, like I had any shot of getting a job

WILLIAMS: You painted a pretty intense picture of a description that you gave of the league by saying that the league at the NFL was racially segregated and of the 32 owners, none are Black while profiting from his players, which are 70% Black. But in your lawsuit, you say the NFL is, quote, "managed like a plantation." Can you give me more description to that? Because some people would say, how can this be a plantation when you have the majority of players who are making millions of dollars and you're creating generational wealth?

FLORES: A modern form of that is probably - was the idea behind those words.

WILLIAMS: What's that mean?

FLORES: And that's what it is. Ownership's predominantly white or all white, excuse me - not even predominantly - all white. The workforce is 70% Black. The leadership of the workforce - there's one Black head coach. It's pretty easy to see how a modern-day form of that - I think a reasonable person could see how that may be the case. Well, that is the case. Again, I think we need to focus on the fact that there's a need for change. There's a need for Black leadership, minority leadership, women in leadership in the National Football League. I mean, that's necessary. You know, we've got young kids who look up to players and think that's as far as they can go. I don't want that for my children. I'm sure you don't want that for your children. That's not as far as they can go. They have the acumen. They have the intellect. They have the leadership ability. This is about the younger generation who is looking at the National Football League, who as a league can be an example for all industries. And these young people are seeing that there's a - or may be a limit where they can go.

WILLIAMS: All right, everybody. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back with more with Brian Flores.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WILLIAMS: So Colin Kaepernick spoke out about police brutality, and he was essentially blackballed. Do you think you'll be blackballed from NFL?

FLORES: I hope not. But if there's significant change - if I'm - if I never coach again, but there's significant chance, it'll be worth it. It'll be worth it, in my opinion.

WILLIAMS: What do you think comes along with that? Let's say - let's use the example of New Orleans, the Benson family, right? Gayle Benson - she's the owner of the team, a woman owner. That seems like an incredible opportunity. She's looking for a legacy move. What do you think if Gayle Benson and the Saints were to hire Brian Flores? What comes along with that? What would the Saints get? And do you think that would be challenging for you and NFL?

FLORES: They get a leader of men and women. They'd get someone who's passionate about helping young guys reach their potential and become the best version of themselves on the field and off the field. Look. I don't - I didn't get into coaching for fame or status or money. I got into it because I had great coaches who helped me become a better version of myself, and I wanted to do that for others. That's - this is a service position. Leadership is about service. So that's what, you know, any team that hires me, I mean, is going to get.

WILLIAMS: It's a tough question to ask because you're a very character-driven man. And I see that in the way you approach things. Over the next several months or for how long this class-action lawsuit continues, are you prepared mentally for details or people's opinions to try to drag your reputation in the mud, to try to debase what you've said, to try to take claims against what you said to help the NFL?

FLORES: I'm prepared for that. But I deal and live in truth and transparency. So I'm at peace with the decisions that I've made, the way I treat people, the respect that's shown in all areas of my life. I know - I realize that that's part of this. But I'm confident that it's worth it if we get the change we need.

WILLIAMS: Is your family ready for what's about to come - your wife and your kids - and how social media can influence that?

FLORES: Yeah. Well, I'm - you know, I never worry about me. But, you know, obviously, I worry about them. You know, my wife - I have to constantly tell her to stay out of the comments 'cause - comments section on Twitter and - because that's - she doesn't need to read the things that are said there. And I'm constantly talking to my children about what's going on. And - but my wife - she's tough and supportive, so I know she'll get through, but - and we'll get through it together. That's what we always talk about.

It's funny - I had someone come down with a bag of clothes, you know, down here in New York. And I actually woke up this morning, kind of going rummaging through some things, and there's a letter - a index card. I don't know. It's - let me see exactly what she wrote, but something to the extent of I love you. I'm proud of you. And we'll get through this together. So that's my wife. And that's the support system I've got, along with friends and other family. And that's part of the reason why we're doing this, you know?

And I think it's important, like we said, to change the hearts and minds of these people in decision-making positions. And quite honestly, you know, there's times where you can't change people's minds. And this league is too great. If that's the case, then maybe we need to get those types of owners out of the National Football League. I love this league. I love this game. But it's an inclusive game. And for those who don't want it to be that, they shouldn't be a part of this game. That's the way I feel.

WILLIAMS: I really appreciate you giving me the time. I know the last 48 hours have been a whirlwind, but I commend you for the stance that you are taking. I also commend you for what you represent. And as a father to two kids - in particular, my son Zane, who's 9 months - I try to be that. But I - you know, your kids eventually are a byproduct of your surroundings, right? And I hope that my kids are lucky enough to be around people like you. And I appreciate what you're doing.

FLORES: Thank you very much. Thank you.

WILLIAMS: A big thank you to Lance Bennett (ph) and Brian's team and everyone at NPR that got this episode off the ground. And trust me - it was a lot of work in a short period of time. And thank you for listening to this bonus episode of THE LIMITS. We'll be back in your feeds on Tuesday. Let's keep it moving. And remember, stay positive.

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