Rev. Jesse Jackson: NFL's Rooney Rule a toothless tiger

Rev. Jesse Jackson

By Rev. Jesse Jackson

Only hours before Brian Flores filed a 58-page lawsuit against the NFL and three teams alleging racial discrimination, I sat watching the Cincinnati Bengals rally from an 18-point deficit to upset the defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs

The overtime defeat was so disheartening to the thousands that packed Arrowhead Stadium, but there was no protest, no verbal threats, no physical violence. 

Why? Because the NFL had ensured, with its rules, its officials and the competitive vigor of the men who played, that the Bengals had fairly earned their way to Sunday’s Super Bowl on an even playing field. 

The absence of that same attribute in the hiring practices for NFL head coaches compels Flores to rightfully pursue a legal remedy. 

The Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks to a group of students at Greenville High School Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022.

Not only was Flores wrongfully fired by the Miami Dolphins last month after remarkably directing a team quarterbacked by a second-year pro to a 19-14 showing over the past two seasons, he was unceremoniously stiff-armed in pursuit of a head coaching job with the New York Giants after being passed over similarly two years earlier by the Denver Broncos. 

The Giants hired a white man who spent last season as an offensive coordinator, a clear rung below the duties Flores strongly shouldered with the Dolphins.  

What we know is that both the Broncos and Giants summoned Flores to satisfy the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview a minority candidate when a head coaching position opens. 

In his lawsuit, where Flores alleged Broncos executive and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway showed up “disheveled” at their interview, the coach labeled the Rooney Rule a “sham.”

I call it a toothless tiger.  

Coach Flores has proven he knows how to win games and yet the Giants hired a coach (Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll) with no track record. They had these interviews, and then Bill Belichick of the Patriots comes in texting Flores with information about who’s getting the job. How is Belichick involved in choosing the next coach of the Giants? 

But that’s how tight that community is. It’s the classic old-boys network. And these guys — these grand old men who have been around for years — survive without true scrutiny. 

My hope is for a more public vetting of these coaches because the Giants and Broncos’ hirings don’t pass the smell test.

It has been that way for too long. Previously, we saw these stances made against Black quarterbacks, but now look at these men — Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, DeShaun Watson — who are doing things they were supposedly not capable of.

I was pleased to see the Houston Texans do the right thing and promote former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith to their head coaching position. Here in Chicago, Lovie led a team without a quarterback to the Super Bowl, and yet when he was later fired, he was put out to pasture for far too long.

I recall playing football. I know coaches produce us. They are fine men. Coach Flores is a fine man. What he’s saying is not sour grapes from a loser. He’s a winning coach.

Lovie Smith was the Texans' defensive coordinator during the 2021 season.

But perhaps now he’s the Curt Flood of the NFL. In baseball, Curt Flood took a stand and filed a lawsuit not to be beholden to one team and now all these players making all of this money owe a debt to Curt Flood. Then, it really was a plantation, and Curt Flood won for players’ right.

I fret for the career of Coach Flores at age 40. The fact it’s so public now, that might be his salvation, but all nine of the coaching openings for this year are filled without him.

Flores has raised a couple damning points here, alleging the Dolphins owner offered him money to tank games.

This tanking business is where the real investigation should start.

To think that some games have now been altered for draft positioning, that’s really corrupt. That’s a violation of law.

If these owners are found guilty of throwing games, they should be removed from ownership and Blacks should have the first right to bid on owning these franchises. It’s not so much about the money you have. It’s about the syntax. We should have a chance to be a part of this.

There are Black people who are capable of buying a team. They should be encouraged to do so. We want to be part of the business of football. And just like we see in the games, with referees on the field enforcing all these rules, we want the business to be fair.

Everything should be transparent, even, fair. That’s what makes the games so exciting. 

I’ve reached out to Commissioner Roger Goodell and am waiting to hear back, although I was heartened to hear him say at his Wednesday news conference that he was open to listening to "outside sources" such as myself who can present him a new way of thinking, an improved strategy to increase diversity in the NFL.

Upon listening to the commissioner's news conference, it is also quite apparent that it is the owners who are making these critical decisions.

So I make an emphatic request to meet with NFL owners, demanding that they push forward to hire Black candidates. 

The commissioner also vowed Wednesday to press for diversity in front-office hiring and in striking fair, just and transparent contracts with vendors. This is another imperative mandate for the league and its 32 owners — none of whom are Black.

If our people are capable of serving as doctors, lawyers, publishers and leaders of business, we can handle owning and coaching an NFL team. 

I know Goodell. He’s a good, fair guy caught in a tough situation.

Goodell should not try to defend the indefensible. You can’t defend these scoundrels. We caught them red-handed.

They can’t walk this back now, but you can control what’s going to happen. Goodell has promised to consult with experts outside the league to “re-evaluate and examine all policies, guidelines and initiatives relating to diversity, equity and inclusion.” 

I want to be part of that process. I can bring change here. I’ve done it all over the world. This is Black History Month, and I would love to talk about how to resolve this conflict.

What I know for sure: Coach Flores is young, articulate and highly capable, and he must not be blackballed.

As told to Lance Pugmire of USA Today Sports+