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Coaches Steve Wilks and Ray Horton join Brian Flores’ racial discrimination lawsuit against NFL



CNN

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and longtime NFL assistant Ray Horton have joined Brian Flores’ racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and multiple teams, according to an amended lawsuit filed Thursday.

In the complaint, Wilks claims he was wrongfully fired by the Cardinals; Horton alleges the Tennessee Titans put him through a “mock” interview process.

Flores filed his federal civil lawsuit in February against the NFL, New York Giants, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins organizations.

Flores, now a Pittsburgh Steelers assistant after three years as Dolphins head coach, praised both men for adding their names to his lawsuit.

“I continue to be touched by the outpouring of support for my claims against the NFL and applaud Steve Wilks and Ray Horton for standing up against systemic racial discrimination,” said Flores, who is black. , in a press release. “Their claims are the unfortunate reality of the problems facing black NFL coaches, which our collective hope in this case is to end once and for all.”

Flores on Thursday also expanded on his claims against the Dolphins and added the Houston Texans as a defendant.

The NFL declined to comment on the amended complaint Thursday.

When Flores first filed the lawsuit, the league said, “The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring fair employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities across all of our organizations. Diversity is at the heart of everything we do, and there are few issues that our clubs and internal leadership team spend more time on. We will defend ourselves against these claims, which are baseless.

The teams named in the lawsuit have denied the allegations.

Wilks claims he was fired “in an unfair and discriminatory manner” by the Cardinals after serving as the team’s head coach for the 2018 season, according to the court document. Wilks was replaced by Kliff Kingsbury, who is white, after going 3-13 that year. In the lawsuit, Wilks argues Kingsbury had more opportunities and support, despite having no previous NFL experience.

“When Coach Flores filed this lawsuit, I knew I had an obligation to myself and all black coaches and aspiring black coaches in the NFL to stand by him,” Wilks said in a statement by the through his lawyers on Thursday. “This trial has shed important new light on a problem that we all know exists, but too few are prepared to confront.

“Black coaches and candidates should have exactly the same ability to become employed and to remain employed as white coaches and candidates. This is currently not the case, and I look forward to working with Coach Flores and Coach Horton to make the aspiration for racial equality in the NFL a reality.

The Cardinals called the decisions made after the 2018 season “very difficult” in a statement. “But as we said at the time, they were fully motivated by what was in the best interests of our organization and necessary for the betterment of the team. We are confident that the facts reflect that and demonstrate that these allegations are false,” the team said.

Earlier this year, Wilks was named passing game coordinator and secondary coach for the Carolina Panthers after spending a season as defensive coordinator at the University of Missouri.

According to the lawsuit, Horton, who was the Titans’ defensive coordinator in 2014-15, said the team asked him to fly from his Phoenix home to Nashville on short notice for an interview for their coaching job- chief. Horton’s attorneys say the interview was a “sham” and was only done “to comply with the Rooney Rule and to demonstrate an appearance of equal opportunity and a false willingness to consider a minority candidate for the job.” job”.

The NFL instituted the Rooney Rule in 2003 in an effort to increase diversity among NFL head coaches, general managers, and senior executives. The rule requires each team to interview at least two external minority candidates for open head coaching positions.

The Titans hired Mike Mularkey, who is White, who said in a 2020 podcast that it was a “fake” hiring process, and he knew he had the job before others candidates are interviewed, according to the lawsuit.

Horton left to become defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. Horton was the last defensive backs coach for the Washington Commanders during the 2019 season.

“I am proud to stand with Coach Flores and Coach Wilks in the fight against the systemic discrimination that has plagued the NFL for far too long,” Horton said in a statement through his colleagues. lawyers on Thursday. “When I learned from Coach Mularkey’s statements that my interview with the Titans head coach was a sham, I was devastated and humbled. By joining this case, I hope to turn this experience into a positive, bring about lasting change and create true equality of opportunity in the future.

The Titans said they are proud of their commitment to diversity.

“Our 2016 head coaching search was a thoughtful and competitive process fully consistent with NFL guidelines and our own organizational values,” the Titans said in a statement to CNN. “No decision has been made and no decision has been communicated until all interviews have been completed.”

Mularkey was fired by the Titans after the 2017 season.

“I’ve always prided myself on doing the right thing in this industry and I can’t say that’s true for everyone in this industry,” Mularkey said on the podcast.

“It’s a very cutthroat business, and a lot of guys will tell you that. But I allowed myself at one point when I was in Tennessee to get caught up in something that I regret, and I still regret it,” he said after learning he got the job before. that the team does not go through the requirements of the Rooney Rule. .

“And so I sat there knowing that 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 at how prepared they were for these interviews, knowing that everything they could do and they had no chance of getting this job,” he said.

CNN has contacted Mularkey for comment.

In the new court document, Flores expanded on the claims that the Dolphins and Texans took “retaliatory” action against him. Flores alleges that the Dolphins failed to pay the remainder of his contract and attempted to “recover the compensation paid to him” in arbitration proceedings.

Flores also alleges that the Texans, who were added as a defendant, refused to hire him this offseason as head coach “because of his decision to take this action and speak publicly about systemic discrimination. in the NFL”.

Flores was considered a finalist for the Texans job, which ultimately went to Lovie Smith. Smith is one of two black head coaches in a league where nearly 70% of players are black.

Mike McDaniel, who has a black father and identifies as biracial, according to ESPN, replaced Flores as head coach of the Dolphins.

“The search for our head coach has been very thorough and inclusive,” the Texans said in a statement to CNN Thursday. “Due to his previous success as a coach in the NFL, Brian Flores was among the first candidates we had a formal interview with for the position and he remained a candidate until the very end. respect for Brian, both personally and professionally, he coached competitively in the league for several years and his resume speaks for itself.

The organization said it was proud of its decision and “will vigorously defend our process”.

The Dolphins fired Flores in January. He went 24-25 in three seasons with the Dolphins, including a 9-8 record last season when Miami missed the playoffs. In February, Flores was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers as an assistant coach to Mike Tomlin, one of the few black head coaches in the NFL.

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