He’s the new Curt. The new Kaep.

In 1970, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood challenged Major League Baseball’s reserve clause in court in the wake of his October 1969 trade and refusal to report to the abysmal Phillies. His challenge eventually led to free agency in baseball and other player rights. It also cost Flood the final years of a strong career; aside from 13 games with the equally abysmal Washington Senators after a year out of baseball, he was blackballed.

In 2016, San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick protested police violence against the Black community, which eventually led to initiatives to not only change the criminal justice system but also to promote diversity and inclusion in all corners of American business and society, including the NFL. It also cost Kaepernick his career; at 34, he remains blackballed.

Brian Flores, with an erect posture and jutting chin, is a portrait in bravery, challenging the biggest business in sports, which currently employs just one Black head coach in a league with 70% minority players.

On Tuesday, the first day of Black History Month, he followed paths of courage. He filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL, the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos, and the Miami Dolphins, who, stunningly, fired him last month. Flores hopes dozens of fellow minority coaches, burdened by unfair standards and insulted by token interviews, will join him.

Flores last week received a series of bungled text messages from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, his former boss. The texts reveal Belichick knew that, before the Giants conducted their interview with Flores on Jan. 27, they already had decided to hire Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who is white.

Belichick got his Brians mixed up.

The Giants subsequently interviewed Flores on Jan. 27 and Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier on Jan. 28. Those interviews satisfied the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to conduct in-person interviews with at least two minority candidates from outside the organization before hiring a head coach. But both, apparently, were sham interviews. Given the evidence, Frazier could join the lawsuit.

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There’s a delicious irony that Belichick, twice found guilty of cheating with his Patriots, might be the unwitting snitch who finally cleans up the NFL. Only one Black head coach is currently employed by an NFL team, and that’s Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh. That team is owned by — you guessed it — the Rooneys.

The Belichick texts spurred Flores to file the lawsuit, and the most damning accusations are levied against Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

Flores claims that after he was hired in 2019, Ross met with him on a yacht in a Miami marina and ordered him to lose games on purpose to improve the struggling team’s draft status. Ross, Flores said, offered him $100,000 per loss.

Flores’ response: “That’s never gonna happen,” he said Wednesday on ESPN’s Get Up.

Ross then cast Flores as an uncooperative employee and eventually fired him.

In hindsight, Flores probably should have called the FBI, since match-fixing is a felony. This is the sort of allegation Congress loves to investigate, too.

Ross’ alleged order to tank not only affects the integrity of the game but also the integrity of the gambling industry, with which the NFL has become a lucrative partner. Ross might have to worry about a lot more than the feds.

Ross should be investigated and, if found guilty, be forced to sell his team ... and prosecuted.

Flores also said that, during the meeting, Ross pressured Flores to recruit a “prominent quarterback,” in violation with NFL tampering rules. The Palm Beach Post reports that the quarterback was pending Patriots free agent Tom Brady, who signed with Tampa Bay in 2020.

The news was so big that it made Brady’s retirement a footnote of Feb. 1, 2022.

Flores has been an NFL assistant or head coach coach for 14 years, not counting four previous years in the Patriots’ scouting department. He remains a candidate for the head coaching jobs in Houston and New Orleans. However, since its inception, the NFL has been brazen in its discrimination. This lawsuit could cost Flores everything. He recognizes that.

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“If I never coach again and there’s change, it will be worth it,” Flores said on Get Up. “This isn’t about me. This is bigger than football.”

You could hear the voices of Flood and Kaepernick echo in his words.

Completely disheveled

Flores accused the Broncos of conducting a sham interview in 2019, when he was Belichick’s linebackers coach, to satisfy the Rooney Rule. He claimed in the suit that the Broncos, including “completely disheveled” president John Elway, showed up to their meeting in Rhode Island late and hung over, and the content of the interview was incomplete and hollow.

Sham minority interviews have long been a blemish on the two-faced NFL — the Eagles interviewed running backs coach Duce Staley in 2016 before they hired Doug Pederson, which helped lead to a more demanding standard for the Rooney Rule — but they were warts with which the NFL gladly lived; proudly, even, behind closed doors. The NFL has often acknowledged its culture of racism and privilege, and gloried in its refusal to change.

Staley now is the running backs coach and assistant head coach in Detroit, where he went in 2021 after failing to secure reasonable promotions in Philadelphia the previous four years. He told reporters at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday that he believed his interviews in Philadelphia were “fair,” and, while he declined to criticize the NFL’s hiring process, he admitted: “There’s some guys who are overqualified, and we all know that.”

Guys like Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, Bucs DC Todd Bowles, Rams DC Raheem Morris, Flores, Frazier, and, of course, Staley himself. Some are getting interviews. None has gotten a head coaching job in this hiring cycle. Might Flores’ lawsuit improve their chances? Maybe ... but that would require the NFL, discriminatory in its very DNA, to suddenly develop a “shame” gene.

Ross, of course, denies the accusation. So do the Broncos and Giants.

Remarkably, the NFL issued a tone-deaf, transparently worthless, knee-jerk statement Tuesday night, without any real investigation, that ignored the Ross issue and rebuked any criticism of its efforts at inclusion; the accusations, it said, were “without merit.”

Again: The NFL, whose players are 70% minorities, has one (1) Black head coach. It’s had to repeatedly revamp the Rooney Rule since it arrived in 2003, as it’s been rendered ineffective by continued institutional racism.

Seems like there’s plenty of “merit.”

The fallout

Flores knows he might have committed coaching suicide, but he sees the current landscape of the NFL, and he’s hopeless. Former two-time head coach Jim Caldwell, with five winning seasons out of seven, and Bieniemy, who went to the last two Super Bowls, can’t get a head coaching job. But unqualified former Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni can, and Jonathan Gannon, Sirianni’s first-time defensive coordinator in Philadelphia, might get one, too. He’s had a second interview in Houston. And Gannon’s candidacy isn’t even the most incredible part of the Texans’ process.

Josh McCown, a high school coach and longtime NFL backup quarterback with no experience with players whose main concerns aren’t acne and proms, also got a second interview. That alone might get Flores paid.

The lawsuit also contends that the NFL underpays minority coaches and holds them to a higher standard. Flores, for example, reportedly made $3 million per year, and was fired despite recording winning records the past two seasons. Matt Rhule, meanwhile, arrived in Carolina from Baylor in 2020 for almost $9 million per year. He’s won just five games in each of his two seasons. Rhule is white.

The lawsuit states: “Even when Black candidates get hired for Head Coaching positions, a rarity, they are discriminated against in connection with the terms and conditions of their employment and compensation and terminated even as far less successful white Head Coaches are retained.”

Flores sees this landscape, looks at the turnaround he affected in Miami, and recognizes the futility of seeking a fair shake from white owners who mainly hire reflections of themselves. Flores’ strategy is clear: Make them pay, make the industry better for his brothers, then, if necessary, go somewhere else and coach. But then, NCAA head coaching gigs hover around 6% minority, so ...

At any rate, Flores clearly doesn’t need to coach at the NFL level to be fulfilled.

“I love helping young people reach their potential, become the best versions of themselves on and off the field,” he told Get Up.

Hopefully, unlike Curt and Kaep, he’ll have the chance to do that again, and do it on the biggest stage.

***

Eagles beat reporters EJ Smith and Josh Tolentino are in Mobile, Ala., for the 2022 Senior Bowl, where NFL teams scout top college players ahead of the draft in April. For this special edition of Inquirer LIVE, watch EJ and Josh discuss the Eagles’ top off-season priorities, analyze how the team might use its three first-round picks, and provide observations of this year’s talent at the Senior Bowl.

Registration Link: Inquirer.com/SeniorBowl