It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? The football coach famous for saying little or nothing sends a text that could say everything that needs to be said about racism in the NFL.
When New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick texted congratulations to what now looks to be the wrong Brian, he pulled back the curtain on the inside world of hiring NFL head football coaches — historically a very select club of white men. Now that text from Belichick is the underpinning of a class action lawsuit filed by former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, which alleges that the entire NFL hiring process is racist.
Flores was fired as coach of the Dolphins, after three seasons on the job, and right after his team beat the New England Patriots. Four teams since then have hired head coaches — all white male assistants, as Globe columnist Gary Washburn writes. One of those hired was Brian Daboll, the offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, who landed a head coaching position with the New York Giants. Meanwhile, Flores, a former Patriots assistant coach, and at least two other Black assistants received no head coaching job offers.
Enter the smoking Belichick texts, screenshots of which are included in the lawsuit filed in federal District Court in Manhattan. Three days before Flores was scheduled for an interview for the head coaching job with the Giants, Belichick texted to Flores: “Sounds like you have landed — congrats!” In the back and forth texting that follows, Flores said he hopes that’s true, then asks: “Coach, are you talking to Brian Flores or Brian Daboll? Just making sure.” In reply, Belichick texts: “I double checked & I misread the text. I think they are naming Daboll. I’m sorry about that. BB”
Oops. To underscore the significance of this timeline: Belichick appears to know the Giants are selecting Daboll several days before they interview Flores. In his lawsuit, Flores said 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 alleges that his interview was just a way for the Giants to comply with the NFL Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview a diverse list of candidates for coaching and general manager positions. The Giants deny the allegations, saying Flores was “in the conversation to be our head coach until the eleventh hour.” The NFL said it is “deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices” and the claims “are without merit.”
There’s only one Black head coach in the NFL — Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Still, legal experts told The New York Times it will be difficult for Flores to win his case, because he must prove that race was specifically a factor in not getting the job. “I view this lawsuit as next to impossible to succeed and I’m extremely surprised he would put his career in jeopardy,” Brad Sohn, a lawyer who has represented numerous NFL players told the Times.
Imagine how angry and frustrated Flores must be to do that. According to the Times, Flores is still a candidate in two other open head coach searches. This lawsuit could put him out of the running for life. All Colin Kaepernick did was kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and his career as a quarterback was over. Flores is taking on the league and team ownership, and sacking his old boss, Belichick, in the process.
The Patriots have had nothing to say about the Flores lawsuit. Meanwhile, the past weeks have been challenging for them. The team was quickly knocked out of the playoffs. Longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is leaving for a head coaching job with the Las Vegas Raiders. All the local sports talk is focused on the urgent need to rebuild. Then, Tom Brady’s big news that he is retiring at age 44 came with a big dis. In his good-bye, the greatest quarterback in NFL history mentioned no one connected to the Belichick-coached team, where he thrilled the fans of Patriots Nation for 20 years.
And now come the Belichick texts. Moving on from this mess might not be as easy as moving “on to Cincinnati” after a football loss.
Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.