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Two Black coaches join discrimination suit against NFL

Joining coach Brian Flores, a pair of former defensive coordinators say they also faced discriminatory hiring practices in the NFL.

MANHATTAN (CN) — A Black coach who says racial discrimination in the National Football League cost him a job with the New York Giants brought two new co-plaintiffs on board with him Thursday in an amended complaint.

Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, who both worked as defensive coordinators for the Cleveland Browns for a time, allege they faced similar racial discrimination when applying for positions with the Arizona Cardinals and Tennessee Titans, respectively.

They join Brian Flores, former head coach of the Miami Dolphins, who claimed this past February that the Giants gave him two sham interviews for a coaching position in an effort to meet their diversity quota when they had already filled the position.

Horton points to the Rooney rule, which requires every NFL team to interview at least two external minority candidates, as the reason why he was also given a similar sham interview for a head coaching position in 2016. The Titans did so, according to the complaint, knowing they had already decided to hire the team's tight-end coach at the time, Mike Mularkey, who is white.

“As Mr. Horton now understands, the rush to interview him was an orchestrated attempt to make it appear that the Titans had complied with the Rooney Rule and otherwise appear to have given an equal opportunity to Black candidates so the team could announce the pre-made decision to hire Mr. Mularkey as head coach,” the complaint says.

Mularkey, who no longer coaches, said in a 2020 interview that the Titans had told him he had the position before they went through the Rooney process, and that he regrets the part he played.

“And so I sat there knowing I was the head coach in 2016, as they went through this fake hiring process knowing, knowing a lot of the coaches that they were interviewing, knowing how much they prepared to go through those interviews, knowing that everything they could do and they had no chance to get that job,” Mularkey said on the "Steelers Realm" podcast.

Those remarks left Horton “devastated and humiliated,” he said in a statement, going on to say that discrimination has “plagued” the NFL for too long.

Ray Horton talks to reporters after practice at the Cleveland Browns facility in Berea, Ohio, on Dec. 19, 2013, while serving as a defense coordinator for the team. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Alleging that the Rooney rule has done little to diversify the NFL, the complaint notes that in the 20 years since its enactment only 15 of 129 head coaching vacancies have been filled by a Black candidate.

Wilks was hired with the Cardinals as a “bridge coach,” which, according to the complaint, is a seat-warmer position until the head coach position can be properly filled. After only coaching for a year, Wilks was fired with three years left on his contract.

The Cardinals hired a white coach, Kliff Kingsbury, to take Wilks’ place, though he had no NFL coaching experience.

“Mr. Kingsbury, with the top pick at quarterback, led the team to a record of 5-10-1 in his first season, only two wins better than Mr.Wilks,” the complaint states. “But Mr. Kingsbury was not fired. He kept his job and was given time to develop the team. Mr. Wilks was never given close to the same opportunity.”

Wilks on Thursday said he owed it to himself and other Black coaches to join this lawsuit.

“Black coaches and candidates should have exactly the same ability to become employed, and remain employed, as white coaches and candidates,” Wilks said in the statement.

The complaint further draws attention to the stark differences in representation in the NFL, where 70% of players are Black, but only 3% of teams have a Black head coach.

The Denver Broncos are also named in the suit, with Flores alleging they also gave him a sham interview in 2019.

Since the initial filing of the complaint, Flores has taken a coaching position with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wilks currently coaches for the Carolina Panthers, and Horton last coached for the Washington Commanders.

Representatives from the Cardinals and the Titans did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Categories / Civil Rights, Employment, Sports

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