Brian Flores didn’t have to say anything about some of the most recent publicized homicides of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement. He didn’t owe us that.
The Dolphins coach is one of three Black head coaches in the NFL — joined by Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and Chargers’ Anthony Lynn — and the only coach, at the time this was written in the wee hours of Sunday morning, to speak out on the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, who, in February while jogging, was chased and gunned down by two armed white South Georgia residents that were eventually charged with his murder only after video of the crime went viral; Breonna Taylor, who, on March 13, was shot and killed after officers forced their way inside her Louisville, Kentucky, home in the middle of the night and George Floyd, who was pinned to the ground by the knee of a white officer in Minneapolis while three other officers watched. Floyd cried out, “I can’t breathe,” multiple times during his deadly arrest Monday and the kneeling officer has since been charged with his murder.
Their names, like the Black lives taken so recklessly and violently before them, were turned into hashtags. Rage turned into protests, protests turned into uprisings and it has been mostly met with silence among NFL brass — except for Flores, 49ers’ CEO Jed York, Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank, a message from the Panthers and a blank statement from commissioner Roger Goodell.
The language, or lack of clear language, Goodell used in a statement released Saturday was a stark contrast to Flores’. His call for outrage was met with Goodell passing the public relations purity test.
“I vividly remember the Colin Kaepernick conversations,” Flores wrote one day prior. “‘Don’t ever disrespect the flag’ was the phrase that I heard over and over again. This idea that players were kneeling in support of social justice was something some people couldn’t wrap their head around. The outrage that I saw in the media and the anger I felt in some of my own private conversations cause me to sever a few long-standing friendships. Most recently, I’ve had conversations about incentivizing teams for hiring minorities. Again, there was some outrage in the media and talks that would cause division amongst coaches, executives and ownership. I bring these situations up because I haven’t seen the same OUTRAGE from people of influence when the conversation turns to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and most recently George Floyd. Many people who broadcast their opinions on kneeling or on the hiring of minorities don’t seem to have an opinion on the recent murders of these young black men and women.”
Where is the outrage from the other 28 teams’ executives? The other owners and coaches who pick, prod and question the majority of Black athletes during the pre-draft process, fill their rosters with “natural talent,” profit off their labor and then discard them.
The NFL has an obvious diversity problem and Goodell’s call to action is laughable when there are only a handful of minority owners and head coaches combined. But the responsibility isn’t on Flores, Tomlin or Flynn. It’s not on the league’s two Black general managers, Dolphins’ Chris Grier and Browns’ Andrew Berry. It’s on Pete Carroll and John Schneider in the progressive Pacific Northwest. It’s on Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn in the majority-Black city of Detroit. Where’s Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace in Chicago or Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman in Philadelphia? The list goes on.
Systemic change cannot occur until the people that really hold the power are just as outraged. Their silence is deafening. It’s noticed.
A number of white NFL athletes who have been less public in the fight of anti-racism have spoken out in the last week. Their tweets are often prefaced with the inability to find the right words, somewhere in the middle a prayer or scripture and at the end, a hashtag, the most recent #JusticeFor. It’s a start; really, it’s the least they can do. Their leaders? They haven’t bothered.
You cannot have this conversation in a vacuum. Steps need to be taken toward progress, but if the very first steps — recognizing the problem, blatantly addressing it and then starting, often difficult, conversations about it that routinely question one’s privilege — aren’t taken then where is this “urgent need for action,” Goodell? We don’t see you recognizing the power of your platform or embracing its responsibility.
On Saturday, President Donald Trump said, “MAGA loves the Black people,” which was a clear indication that MAGA, or Make America Great Again, doesn’t extend to the Black community. After Goodell’s statement and other executives’ silence, one can only assume the NFL’s progress doesn’t either.