When proving cases alleging racial discrimination, the specific treatment directly endured by the plaintiff goes a long way toward proving the case. However, other evidence becomes relevant.
General comments made by key figures can be cited as evidence of bias. Also, past hiring practices without the league could show that something was, and still is, amiss.
The civil lawsuit filed by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores includes this damning quote at paragraph 7 from Troy Vincent, the NFL’s longtime executive V.P. of football operations: “There is a double standard, and we’ve seen that . . . And you talk about the appetite for what’s acceptable. Let’s just go back to . . . Coach [Tony] Dungy was let go in Tampa Bay after a winning season. . . Coach [Steve] Wilks, just a few years prior, was let go after one year . . . Coach [Jim] Caldwell was fired after a winning season in Detroit . . . It is part of the larger challenges that we have. But when you just look over time, it’s over-indexing for men of color. These men have been fired after a winning season. How do you explain that? There is a double standard. I don’t think that that is something that we should shy away from. But that is all part of some of the things that we need to fix in the system. We want to hold everyone to why does one, let’s say, get the benefit of the doubt to be able to build or take bumps and bruises in this process of getting a franchise turned around when others are not afforded that latitude? . . . [W]e’ve seen that in history at the [professional] level.”
Paragraph 8 attributes this quote to NFL senior V.P. and chief diversity & inclusion officer Jonathan Beane: “Any criticism we get for lack of representation at the GM and head coach positions, we deserve. We see that we’re not where we want to be. We have to do much better. We’re focusing on all roles at the league, and all these roles are key roles . . . But certainly at the top of the house, general manager and head coach, that’s the responsibility of the NFL to make sure that we are representing our current fan base and we’re representing those that are in the league today. And if you look at it right now, we’re grossly underrepresented.”
Not quoted in the Flores complaint are comments made by Vincent to Peter King in 2020: “The facts are, we have a broken system . . . Do I take it personal? Yes I do. It’s my responsibility as a professional athlete, as a man of color, as someone who bleeds the National Football League, bleeds football, it’s part of our responsibility to continue what we believe is right for our game. . . . [S]itting in these meetings, listening, hearing people give different excuses, like: ‘This is not the right platform’or ‘Troy, Commissioner, I hear what you’re trying to do — not sure this is the right vehicle but we understand.’ Those are the same words that they told people in my community in the fifties, the forties, about integration of school systems, housing — but not giving us any solutions.”
In other words, Vincent said he was trying to make things better, but that he was basically being ignored.
Here’s what we wrote about Vincent’s candid remarks at the time: “Plenty of businesses learn valuable lessons about proper practices and policies only after experiencing a lawsuit from inception to settlement or verdict. The current challenge for the NFL will be to anticipate what may be coming — especially with Vincent poised to be, consciously or not, the key witness for the plaintiff — and to act before suffering the financial and P.R. fallout of a judge and a jury finding that one or more teams have engaged in illegal discrimination on the basis of race. . . . The longer it takes for a fix to be made, the greater the chance that one or more teams will have to answer for the situation as defendants in a landmark case brought under federal or state civil rights laws.”
That landmark case has landed. Vincent and Beane instantly become key witnesses for the plaintiff.
Then there are the numbers, cold and hard and factual. The number of key openings for the last 50 years. The number of the openings that have gone to Black candidates. The won-loss records of Black coaches who were fired, as opposed to white head coaches.
The message to a jury of average people, if it gets to that point, will be simple. “Folks, if you flip a coin 500 times and it comes up head’s 490 times, there’s something wrong with the coin.”
And it’s ultimately going to cost the NFL many, many more than 500 coins to resolve this one.