The Brian Flores racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL just added two more complainants. Former Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and former defensive coordinator Ray Horton have also alleged racial discrimination by the league and its member teams in hiring. If the NFL thought this lawsuit would get drowned out by the upcoming draft, it was mistaken.
“When Coach Flores filed this action, I knew I owed it to myself, and to all Black NFL coaches and aspiring coaches, to stand with him,” Wilks said in a statement released this week by his lawyers. “This lawsuit has shed further important light on a problem that we all know exists, but that too few are willing to confront. Black coaches and candidates should have exactly the same ability to become employed, and remain employed, as white coaches and candidates. That is not currently the case, and I look forward to working with Coach Flores and Coach Horton to ensure that the aspiration of racial equality in the NFL becomes a reality.”
Wilks was hired as head coach by the Arizona Cardinals in 2018. After going 3-13 in one season Wilks was fired. That brief tenure is the core of his complaint. Wilks believes he was a “bridge coach” whom the Cardinals had no intention of giving the opportunity to succeed. He was given a poor roster and was holding the space until the Cardinals hired the coach they wanted in Kliff Kingsbury.
“Mr. Wilks was discriminated against by the Arizona Cardinals in a manner consistent with the experiences of many Black coaches,” Wigdor and Elefterakis write in the complaint. “Mr. Wilks was hired as a ‘bridge coach’ and was not given any meaningful chance to succeed.”
The complaint of Steve Wilks: pic.twitter.com/hYuatuXlhw
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 7, 2022
Ray Horton alleges the Tennessee Titans interviewed him for their head coaching vacancy in 2016 despite having already promised the job to interim head coach Mike Mularkey.
Horton’s complaint is interesting because in 2020 Mularkey admitted he was offered the job before the team completed the interview process, including interviewing two minority candidates. ESPN made the connection this week between Mularkey’s interview on a September 2020 episode of the “Steelers Realm” podcast and the claim by Horton:
“I’ve always prided myself on doing the right thing in this business and I can’t say that’s true about everybody in this business,” Mularkey said on the podcast. “It’s a very cutthroat business and a lot of guys will tell you that. … I allowed myself at one point when I was in Tennessee to get caught up in something I regret it and I still regret it. But the ownership there, Amy Adams Strunk and her family, came in and told me I was going be the head coach in 2016 before they went through the Rooney Rule. And so, I sat there knowing I was the head coach in ’16 as they went through this fake hiring process. Knowing a lot of the coaches they were interviewing, knowing how much they prepared to go through those interviews, knowing that everything they could do and they had no chance of getting that job. Actually, the GM, Jon Robinson, he was in on the interview with me. He had no idea why he was interviewing me — that I had the job already. I regret. I’m sorry I did that. It was not the way to go about it.”
Mularkey’s admission that NFL teams conduct sham interviews just to satisfy the Rooney Rule is no surprise to anyone that follows the league. But the fact that he admitted it in a public forum, and the job he received involves the sham interview of a complainant in a lawsuit, while it might not be a smoking gun, it is damning evidence against the league.
Throughout history whenever significant change occurs, there must be sacrifice. That’s what every revolution and major movement was built on. Flores, Horton, and Wilks will likely never have the opportunity to be head coaches. But if judgment of this lawsuit goes in their favor, it will be a major victory for the next generation of Black NFL head coaches.