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NFL Suit: Sometimes whispered indignation has to be shouted out loud

By Vernon A. Williams

Many options for Black folks in this country are beyond their control and instead rest in the hands of white people. That’s not “anti” anybody. That’s not victim mentality. That’s just the abysmal truth.

There is nothing more I would like to see, in terms of our society, than this enigmatic, brutal condition eradicated. But as long as it remains, I refuse to be among those who choose to rationalize or ignore an uncomfortable reality.

Even in situations in which Black people enjoy a modicum of authority, their power is more often than not mitigated by the existence of a “higher up” to whom they must report and too often reflect. Seldom do Blacks have the final word.

My spirit leapt this week hearing news that ousted Miami Dolphins Coach Brian Flores will sue the National Football League for racial discrimination for its conspicuous lack of job opportunities for Black coaches.

Flores decided to risk confrontation with the behemoth that is the NFL; no matter the prospects of winning the suit. Flores refuses to go quietly into the night.

Then came breaking news that Oscar, Tony, Grammy and Emmy award-winner Whoopi Goldberg was suspended from her anchor spot on the morning talk show, “The View,“ for two weeks. Her punishment was the result of disparaging remarks made about the Holocaust. Media and public rebuke was swift and stern after her saying the execution of Jews was not racially motivated.

The day after making the ill-conceived comments, Whoopi began “The View” with what seemed to be a genuinely apologetic statement. She acknowledged her insensitivity and lack of awareness was reflected in her comment. But even after remorsefully conceding that the Holocaust was indeed about racism, she was disciplined by ABC.

If a Black boss had the purview of dealing with her mistake there would likely have been more compassion. Even with a net worth of over $60 million and top awards in every genre of U.S. entertainment, there was no safety net to brace her fall.

The struggle is for this to become a nation in which Blacks at the highest levels of decision making are common, and not an anomaly, or sadly more accurately, nonexistent. But it’s unrealistic to expect white America to surrender or even share on a broad scale its influence and privilege. So the struggle persists.

Frederick Douglass summed it up best.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its mighty waters.

“This struggle may be a moral one; or may be a physical one; or may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Few things are more devastating than the assumption of inferiority. That is precisely what is meant when Blacks say that they are unable to compete, not because of talent, intellect, skills or any factor other than the fact that the playing field is still not level. So Blacks start at a disadvantage even when rules and tools are equal.

There is still the nemesis of the perception of inferiority often pervasive in our daily walk, intensifying the challenge of equal pursuit of quality of life. While this is an American dilemma that merits constant attention, it is too often relegated to Dr. King remembrances and Black History Month.

Black History Month is but one sentence on one page out of the voluminous book of Black life pertaining to American justice, equity and humanity. The month neither generates nor deters recourse. It is just a moment in the vast array of time. However warm that moment, in the final analysis, it is just a moment.

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Former NFL Coach Brian Flores

While it is not curative, never let anyone confuse you into thinking Black History Month is obsolete, unnecessary or counterproductive.

Anyone upset over Blacks discussing their plight is suspect. And anyone who argues that Black history is symbolism, divisive or irrelevant is part of the problem – no matter what color.

It is important to put Black History Month into context. We mustn’t disillusion our detractors into thinking that rhetorical tribute or ceremonial platitudes can replace substantive dialogue or commitment to pursue meaningful change.

If America was even a little interested in Blacks, there would be more unified resistance to widespread political disenfranchisement. While conservatives perpetrate this assault on U.S. citizenship rights, both liberals and moderates seem content with mild opposition or silently standing on the sidelines.

The bottom line is, you are either for us or against us. There’s no middle ground on virtue, principles, character, justice, and humanity. There is no left and right. There is only right and wrong.

Whether your foundation is built on the constitution of the United States, the Holy Bible, the Quran, or just common decency and basic tenets of citizenship, nothing can justify or excuse the way in which America disconnects from the most vulnerable. It’s a bully mentality.

And that is why the courage of Coach Flores is so refreshing. You don’t have to be a football fan to cheer for the underdog. And in this case, his suit is drawing attention to a lingering problem in professional sports. If the NFL had a conscience it would be an embarrassment. But in any case, it will force at least some of what they do in the dark to be brought out into the light.

The NFL for decades has been criticized for its paucity of Black coaches, and now Flores plans to hold the league’s feet to the legal fire. His suit says, “Mr. Flores has determined that the only way to effectuate real change is through the Courts, where the NFL’s conduct can be judged by a jury of Mr. Flores’ peers.” A judgment that is long overdue.

The suit is filed as a proposed class action. There is currently only one Black head coach in the NFL, although there still are five open positions. All four new hires since the end of the regular season have been white men, three of the four with no coaching experience.

Flores’ law firm estimates that around 70 percent of NFL players are Black.

Among other things, the suit is seeking an increase in the hiring influence of Black individuals, more transparency in hiring and firing decisions and an effort to help source Black investors to take majority ownership stakes in NFL teams.

Win or lose, Flores’ courage is historic. This is definitely a David and Goliath battle and no sports owners and organizers are more obstinate and “traditional” as the NFL. But as stated, without struggle there cannot even be the prospect of change.


CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].


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