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Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores sues NFL citing systemic racism

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A lawsuit by Brian Flores, the recently fired coach of the Miami Dolphins, alleges he was offered money to lose games. NPR's Sandhya Dirks reports it's not the first time a Black coach in the NFL has suggested he was set up to fail.

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

SANDHYA DIRKS, BYLINE: That's what Brian Flores told Jay Williams on the NPR podcast The Limits about his claim that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him money to deliberately lose games to secure the team a higher draft pick - $100,000 per game lost. Ross has denied the charges.

Andrew Brandt, the executive director of the Moorad Center for Sports Law, says bribery is a major allegation.

ANDREW BRANDT: Obviously, this is a bombshell of an accusation because it goes against all the principles the league is set up on - integrity, of course, competitive balance, trying to win.

DIRKS: And because of where it hits - right in the pocketbook. After a 2018 Supreme Court ruling opened the door to legalize sports gambling, the NFL welcomed betting with open arms. It's a huge driver of viewership - major money for the league, Brandt says.

BRANDT: So the NFL is tied in now, right? The NFL has Caesars as its official casino. Everyone talks about the spread, the spread, the spread. There's going to be hundreds of millions of dollars - billions of dollars - bet on the Super Bowl next week.

DIRKS: One of the reasons the NFL resisted sports betting for so long is because it was worried it might corrupt games, says Jeff Ifrah, a gambling law expert.

JEFF IFRAH: The leagues have always suggested this occurs from the outside. There's outside influence - right? - where particular bettors might try to get a - taking advantage of a particular player on a particular play. No one has ever suggested that a head coach would be told to essentially throw a game.

DIRKS: But that's exactly what Brian Flores says happened.

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FLORES: 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.

DIRKS: Flores' lawsuit isn't just about fixing games. It's really about systemic racism. Andrew Brandt says they're connected.

BRANDT: I think what we're seeing with the bribery allegation is that the implication is he wouldn't have bribed a white coach in that way.

DIRKS: But Jeremi Duru, a law professor at American University, says it's even bigger than that.

JEREMI DURU: The suggestion goes a step further and implies that he was expendable.

DIRKS: Duru wrote a book about the challenges facing Black coaches in the NFL.

DURU: That is to say he can come in, take the job and lose and, as a consequence of losing, be fired after a couple years, and then the team that gets to rebuild on the strength of draft picks accumulated during the losing seasons may be a white coach who's able to take the program further.

DIRKS: Another Black coach, Hue Jackson, has spoken up in support of Flores. He was fired from the Cleveland Browns in 2018 after three seasons. In total that year, five Black coaches were fired and replaced with white coaches.

Earlier this week, Jackson told ESPN he wasn't given the tools to win as head coach.

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HUE JACKSON: I tried to sound this alarm a while back, but nobody wanted to listen 'cause the record was so bad. So you didn't have a chance to really make a point because all the narratives was that he was just a bad coach.

DIRKS: Duru says Flores and Jackson are part of a pattern.

DURU: This is a broader dynamic over the course of the last couple decades, a sense that as a general matter, when a Black coach is given an opportunity, it tends to be with a franchise that isn't as strong, that is down on its luck, that Black coaches historically have less likely been able to get the jobs with the premier franchises on a substantial uptrend.

DIRKS: In other words, when Black coaches do get a chance, they are set up to fail.

Right now, there's only one Black NFL coach. But Flores' class-action lawsuit builds on Colin Kaepernick's years-long protest of racism, which many believe shifted the league's culture of silence. We'll soon see how many other Black coaches join Flores to take on the extreme power of the National Football League.

Sandhya Dirks, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.