WashU Expert: Flores lawsuit highlights lack of diversity among coaches, leadership in professional sports

Former Miami Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores has filed a class-action lawsuit against the National Football League and three of its teams for alleged racial discrimination.


The lawsuit shines a light on the lack of diversity among head coaches and leadership in professional sports, according to Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Olin Business School. With five head coach positions currently open in the NFL, he believes the timing of this lawsuit could lead to swift changes.

“While it is too early to know whether Flores will win his case, the mere fact the case has been brought will, going forward, force teams to be even more conscientious about their hiring processes and giving minority coaching candidates a fair and legitimate shot for open positions,” Rishe said.

“Additionally, with a few coaching vacancies left in the current 2022 NFL head coach cycle, the timing of Flores’ lawsuit may ultimately further influence teams to select minority candidates.”

While some are speculating that Flores — who is currently a candidate for at least two of the five remaining head coaching jobs — has torpedoed his chances at earning one of the current vacancies, Rishe does not believe that will be the case.

“I actually believe we are in an environment where this will embolden Flores. He will certainly receive great empathy from players, and I believe he may have connections,” he said.

Possible repercussions for Miami Dolphins, NY Giants

According to Rishe, the Miami Dolphins and NY Giants may face scrutiny if Flores’ accusations prove true.

“If, indeed, the Giants had already planned on hiring one coach and merely interviewed Flores as a mere courtesy and to satisfy the letter, not the intent, of the Rooney Rule, then they will likely see a penalty from the league — such as loss of draft pick or picks,” Rishe said. “Additionally, teams in general will be more apt to be more adherent to the intent of the Rooney Rule.”

The Rooney Rule is an NFL policy that requires teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs.

“If, indeed, Stephen Ross, owner of the Dolphins, attempted to bribe the coach to lose games for a better draft position, this would be severely punished by the league due to the detrimental impact on the spirit of competition,” Rishe added. “Penalties could include a large financial penalty, loss of draft picks and a one-year ban from any involvement with the team or from the team’s complex.”

Diversity in NFL, professional sports  

With the firing of Flores and David Culley of the Houston Texans after the 2021 season, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the only remaining Black head coach in the NFL. How does this compare to minority representation among players, assistant coaches and leadership?

Using data from the Racial and Gender Report Cards from the Institute for Diversity and Equity in Sports and his own head count of NFL coaching staffs, Rishe composed the following statistics on diversity in the NFL:

Graphic: Monica Duwel/Washington University
  • Black players comprise 58% of the league
  • Black head coaches currently comprise only 4% of the league — one out of 27 teams, with five additional head spots unfilled.
  • Among all coaches — head and assistants — however, 36% are Black, or one out of three.
  • 53% of all defensive assistant coaches and 33.5% of offensive assistant coaches are Black
  • 39% of all defensive coordinators and 13.3% of offensive coordinators are Black.

“So while the representation of Black coaches overall is more than one out of three coaches, the eyesore is the low representation among head coaches,” Rishe said

“What is more perverse is the lack of minority representation off the field,” he added.  

Graphic: Monica Duwel/Washington University
  • 9% of league team CEO and/or GMs are Black
  • 10% of the C-Suite or team vice presidents are Black
  • 13% of senior administration/team staff are Black.

The NFL is not unique in its lack of representation among head coaches and team leadership, though, as Rishe noted below.

National Basketball League

Graphic: Monica Duwel/Washington University
  • Black players comprise 73% of the league, and 40% of all coaches, head and assistant. This gap of 33 percentage points is greater than the NFL’s gap of 22 points.
  • 23% of NBA head coaches are Black.

Major League Baseball

Graphic: Monica Duwel/Washington University
  • Black players comprise 8% of the league, and 6% of all coaches, head and assistant
  • 3% of MLB head coaches are Black in MLB, but because MLB has a considerably lower percentage of Black players, the small percentage of Black coaches/managers in baseball generally receives less public scrutiny.