Head coach Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins looks on against the Baltimore Ravensat Hard Rock Stadium on November 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Michael Reaves—Getty Images

Brian Flores made his mark in Minnesota this past NFL season, in his first year as defensive coordinator for the Vikings. Though the team fell short of the playoffs, Flores led a Twin Cities turnaround. While Minnesota finished tied for 30th—or third-to-last—in the NFL last season in points allowed per game, this year the Vikings finished a more respectable tied for 13th. News articles credited Flores for concocting innovative schemes. “Brian Flores Has Done an Incredible Job With the Vikings’ Defense in 2023,” one Sports Illustrated headline blared.

Impressive, sure. But two years after Flores filed a racial-discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and three of its teams—the Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, and New York Giants—hoping to “shine a light on the racial injustices that take place in the NFL,” his influence continues to extend far beyond the football field. (Flores later added the Houston Texans to the suit, claiming they passed him up for a head-coaching job as a form or retaliation “due to his decision to file this action and speak publicly about systemic discrimination in the NFL.”) At the time Flores filed his suit, the NFL, a league where the majority of players are Black, employed a single Black head coach. Flores, who was fired as Dolphins head coach in early 2022 despite leading the team to its first back-to-back winning seasons in almost two decades, won a legal victory last March, when a federal judge cleared the way for the case to proceed to a courtroom. (The judge ordered Flores to pursue his claims against the Dolphins through arbitration.)

“Everybody has known that the NFL’s record of hiring Black coaches is a problem,” says Louis Moore, a professor of history at Grand Valley State University and author of We Will Win the Day: The Civil Rights Movement, the Black Athlete, and the Quest for Equality. “But we haven’t seen these guys really do much about it. The fact that Brian Flores is able to go out there on a limb, and risk his career, is really powerful.”

Flores has alleged Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wanted Flores to “tank” during the 2019 season, offering him $100,000 for every loss, so the team could improve its draft position. Flores also alleged that after he refused to violate league tampering rules, Ross treated him “with disdain.” He claimed that the Broncos and Giants conducted “sham” interviews with him, designed simply to comply with the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for their open positions.

Most notably, the lawsuit includes alleged text messages to Flores from former New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Flores’ former boss. Belichick said that he heard from the Giants that Flores was “their guy” for the team’s head-coaching vacancy in 2022. Flores asked Belichick for clarification on whether he meant to send the message to him or Brian Daboll, another coach in the mix for the job. Belichick apologized for his error, and admitted he thought the Giants were going to hire Daboll—which they did—even though they hadn’t conducted their scheduled interview with Flores.

The NFL, Dolphins, Broncos, Giants, and Texans have all denied Flores’ claims. Ross called them “malicious attacks.” In August 2022, the NFL suspended Ross and fined him $1.5 million for tampering, though league investigators said neither Ross nor anyone from the Dolphins instructed Flores to lose on purpose.

The NFL now has six Black head coaches. Three—DeMeco Ryans of the Houston Texans, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Todd Bowles of the Tampa Buccaneers—reached the playoffs. In January the New England Patriots named Jerod Mayo to replace Belichick, the Las Vegas Raiders hired Antonio Pierce as permanent head coach, and the Atlanta Falcons tabbed Raheem Morris to lead their team.(Mike McDaniel, coach of the Miami Dolphins, identifies as biracial.) Despite solid work as defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings this past season, Flores likely won’t be joining them this offseason. But by coming forward, he may have helped some colleagues win opportunities—with the promise of more to come. “We filed the lawsuit,” Flores said at the time, “so that we could create some change.”

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Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com.

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