No halftime show is big (and Black) enough to hide the NFL’s latest controversy

The National Football League’s tactic of using Black halftime performers and superficial shows of solidarity to distract from accusations of racism ran into an immovable object Tuesday: a class-action lawsuit. 

Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores sued the league and three teams Tuesday over several allegations of racial discrimination. Here are just a few of his claims:

  • Flores, fired by the Dolphins last month, said team owner Stephen Ross encouraged him to lose games on purpose and was disappointed when Flores wouldn’t. 
  • Flores said Ross urged him to break league tampering rules by recruiting a “prominent quarterback” in the offseason.
  • Flores said the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos held interviews with him solely to comply with the “Rooney Rule,” an NFL policy requiring teams to interview external, minority candidates when hiring a new head coach or general manager.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin is the only Black coach left in the NFL, in which roughly 70 percent of players are Black

The lawsuit is exposing the league’s shameless pandering to Black people.

“My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come,” Flores said in a statement through his lawyers Tuesday. 

The Giants, Broncos and Dolphins all denied that racial discrimination was their reason for not hiring Flores. In a statement, the NFL claimed “diversity is core to everything we do,” and vowed to fight the suit, which the league said is “without merit.”

I’m interested in how Flores’ lawsuit shakes out. The story of prospective Black coaches and GMs being denied a fair shake while white mediocrity is rewarded has been written ad nauseam. So have critiques of the Rooney Rule, which Flores’ lawsuit echoed.

The rule’s “effectiveness requires NFL teams to take it seriously, and not treat it as a formality that must be endured simply to formalize the predetermined hiring of a white coach,” according to Flores’ complaint.

The rule has essentially turned into “an instance where guys just are checking a box,” Flores said in an interview Wednesday.

Yet, as eager as I am to see the NFL’s meritocracy facade crumble, I’m equally excited that the lawsuit is exposing the league’s shameless pandering to Black people. 

Justine Goode; MSNBC / Getty Images

It felt gross in 2019 when the NFL entered a partnership with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation brand to help plan future Super Bowl halftime shows and play an important role in the league’s “Inspire Change” social justice initiative. The timing made it clear all parties involved were looking to divert attention away from racism within the NFL — specifically, allegations that the league blackballed quarterback Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem in support of racial justice.

The NFL’s blatant attempt to placate Black concerns using a familiar Black face became all the more obvious when Jay-Z infamously declared the league had “moved past kneeling” in 2019.

An ironic claim, no? In wavering from his previous stance not to perform for the NFL to adopting their stance against on-field protests, Jay-Z kneeled before the very oppressive forces he had ostensibly been hired to fight. But the highly criticized deal continued onward. 

And to what end? Well, we’ve gotten a Jennifer Lopez halftime show, a halftime show featuring The Weeknd, and this year, Jay-Z helped coordinate a Dr. Dre-led halftime show. The league would also argue they’ve helped Black causes by donating money through the “Inspire Change” initiative. 

But I’d argue the NFL has failed to clean up its own racism, as Flores’ lawsuit argues. And there’s no sum of money — and no performance of “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” — grand enough to buy Black silence.

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Head over to The ReidOut Blog for more.

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