What Academia Should Learn from the NFL’s Flores Affair

Last week, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores made headlines in the sports world after he filed a class action lawsuit against the National Football League and all 32 of its teams. Flores­, who is African American, was interviewed for a position as head coach of the New York Giants. The job was given to another candidate, but Flores claims that the Giants never intended to consider him for the role in the first place. Rather, he believes that the interview was a sham, and that its sole purpose was to tick a box in order to fulfill a racial quota in the pool of interviewees.

The academic world should pay close attention to the development of this case, as it provides valuable lessons regarding racial preferences in hiring and admissions. Although an investigation is pending, it seems clear that Flores is correct in claiming that the interview was pointless. He alleges that, prior to the interview, he received text messages revealing that Brian Daboll, a white man, got the job. These texts were mistakenly sent by New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichik, who confused the two Brians and congratulated Flores rather than Daboll—an awkward faux pas, to say the least.

While one can sympathize with Flores, the controversy raises an important question: how did the NFL get in this mess in the first place? The answer lies in the league’s implementation of the “Rooney Rule.” According to this rule­—introduced in 2003—NFL teams must include ethnic-minority candidates in the pool of interviewees for head coaching jobs, as well as other senior football operations roles. The result has not been an increase in minority representation in these jobs, but rather pointless interviews to fulfill a racial quota, such as the one suffered by Flores.

This incident exposes an uncomfortable truth: often, affirmative action programs function as bureaucratized box-ticking exercises that leave everyone worse off. Academia is no exception. Although there is no equivalent of a Rooney Rule that applies to all higher ed institutions in the United States, many universities do require hiring committees to include ethnic minorities in the pool of candidates. One may begin to wonder how many pointless interviews­—such as Flores’— have taken place as a result of these procedures in the academic world.

[Related: “Race Wars Come to the Court”]

In his lawsuit, Flores claimed that the NFL is run “like a plantation.” Needless to say, this is a cheap argument that draws an absurd comparison between chattel slavery and an organization that pays athletes and coaches huge sums of money. Predictably, the Flores affair has once again opened the debate about ethnic disparities in the United States. Sports commentators often point out that while 70% of NFL players are black, only one NFL team employs a black head coach. Higher ed analysts, meanwhile, cite similar disparities when discussing the alleged systemic racism in academia: while African Americans constitute 12% of the U.S. population, only 7.2% of American professors are black.

To assume that disparities are prima facie evidence of discrimination is to commit what is now known as the “disparity fallacy.” There may be many other explanations for such disparities. In fact, statisticians have known for a long time that in the interplay of variables, there may be confounding factors. One common way of controlling for such factors is by relying on multiple regression analyses. In many cases, when these analyses are conducted, ethnic disparities largely—although not always entirely—disappear.

In fact, disparities are not hard to find all over society, but few take notice of most of them. The fact that African Americans constitute 70% of NFL players is taken as evidence of discrimination in hiring procedures for head coaching jobs, but by the same token, shouldn’t that same percentage serve as proof of discrimination against white players in the NFL? Of course, it is silly to claim that the NFL is prejudiced against white players, but this makes it clear that disparities are not necessarily proof of discrimination. University administrators ought to take note of this in their approach to disparities in the academic world.

While it is true that American sports have a long, sordid history of racism, their extreme competitiveness makes it unlikely that racial prejudice is a factor in today’s hiring decisions. Teams want to win, and to do so, they will hire whom they consider the best; in the dog-eat-dog world of sports, you cannot afford to be a racist. In fact, Flores himself seems to know this all too well. His attorneys in the lawsuit are white. African Americans are underrepresented in the legal profession, yet he still chose to hire white lawyers. Is Flores a racist for not hiring African American lawyers? No—presumably, Flores simply hired those whom he believed could best move forward with the lawsuit. At worst, Flores would be a hypocrite, but not a racist.

[Related: “Harvard, UNC Cases Give SCOTUS Chance to End Racial Preferences for Good”]

Flores also alleges that he was fired from the Miami Dolphins because he refused to accept $100,000 for every game lost late in the season, as this would help improve the club’s position in the off-season draft. If true, this is a very serious allegation. But it would not be all that surprising—this sort of “tanking” has occurred in professional sports for quite some time. Teams often deliberately lose to be at the bottom of the standings, and thus to have the privilege of first picks in the draft. While these draft rules were originally designed to make sports more equitable, they have actually detracted from the integrity of the game.

This is a perfect example of what social scientists call “perverse incentives,” i.e., initiatives that have results contrary to the original intentions of their designers. Throughout American academia, “equity” has been promoted to such a degree that there is a race to the bottom for the allegedly disadvantaged, who compete over scraps of privilege as compensation for their oppression. Ultimately, the system incentivizes poor performance—not unlike NFL teams who purposely lose a game in order to earn a higher pick in the draft.

In fact, the whole Flores affair should serve as a lesson about the dangers of unintended consequences. The Rooney Rule itself has morphed into a perverse incentive, as it has made a mockery of hiring practices and has ultimately harmed ethnic-minority candidates, who end up being used as tokens of racial virtue-signaling. American academia has a golden opportunity to learn from this debacle and to reconsider many of its administrative procedures and ideological leanings.


Image: Dave Adamson, Public Domain

Gabriel Andrade

Gabriel Andrade is assistant professor of medicine at Ajman University.

9 thoughts on “What Academia Should Learn from the NFL’s Flores Affair

  1. Some enlightening information has come out about the Flores case. Flores whines about racial disparities in the NFL upper escelons given that 70% of the players are black. Well, it turns out that 75% of Flores’ assistant coaching staff was white. Also, he was fired by the general manager Chris Grier, who just happens to be black.

    It is hard not to believe the race card is in play here with the filing of that lawsuit.

  2. Most ads for college faculty positions include an allusion to being an “Equal Opportunity Employer.” Since it is the law, it makes no sense to include this other than as a “wink, wink, we will give you preferential treatment if you’re from the right group.”

    When colleges seeking more “diversity”–that doesn’t mean viewpoint diversity–end up rating Asian-Americans lower on personality traits, it is just a racist way of avoiding the spirit of the law. If it were black applicants that college’s rated lower on such traits there would be widespread rioting, sorry “protests” and calls for mandatory sensitivity training.

    There is a conspicuous lack of black place kickers in the NFL. At the corner of Innumerate and Woke, this is irrefutable evidence of racial discrimination.

  3. Let us speak plainly.
    When you screw with the market — to produce an arbitrary outcome — then you will achieve only those arbitrary outcomes AND a screwed-up market filled with pissed-off customers.

    Is anyone actually surprised that the Rooney Rule produced sham interviews and disappointed ‘candidates’ who were “shocked – shocked!” to discover that their mandated ‘dates’ weren’t really serious?? When your Mom forces you to take your 2nd cousin–once removed (let’s call her Doris) to the prom because she didn’t have a date….is Doris surprised to learn that she’s not your heart’s desire? (Not if Doris has her head screwed on straight, she’s not. Doris is probably also pissed that her prom date has been Mom-Mandated)

    And yet, we’re told, the results of 20 years of being forced to take Doris to the prom are SHAMEFUL because, so far, very few people have married their particular ‘Doris’?

    Are we idiots?

    If it’s “silly to claim that the NFL is prejudiced against White players because 70% of the NFL is Black” …. then it’s just as silly to claim they’re prejudiced because only 3% of the 32 head coaches are Black. The demographic ‘target’ is 13% on both sides of that coin. The first imbalance (players) is 57 points wide; the 2nd is only 10 points wide (coaches). Which is ‘worse’ if what you’re counting is gap size?

    The truth is every team wants to win. And given the multi-million dollar benefits which accrue to teams which win consistently (and win the Superbowl in particular) every team will do EVERYTHING THEY CAN to win. ‘Everything they can’ means hiring the Very Best Players and Very Best Coaches. NO ONE CARES WHAT COLOR ANY OF THEM ARE. No one.

    So why is there a demographic imbalance? You tell me. Why are 70% of the most talented players Black? Why are 67% of all HS football coaches White? Why are 68% of all College Coaches White? Why are the top 10 winningest coaches in the NFL all White? Why does everyone think Andy Reid’s a genius? Why has Eric Bieniemy not been hired as a head coach (despite 20+ mandated interviews)? Why can’t Doris ever seem to get a date for the Prom?

    If every one of the 32 owners is interested only in JUST WIN BABY….do we actually believe that some of those 32 are so damned prejudiced that they would choose against their own self interest (in winning) to avoid hiring the ‘best possible coaching candidate’ if that candidate were Black?

    Truly, we must be crazy if that’s what we believe. Equally crazy if we actually believe that forcing owners to hire people they don’t want to hire will fix anything.

    As for Flores and his lawsuit? He’s simply decided that his potential payoff in the courts is a better bet than continuing to work his ass off to try to win football games.

    And Academia? (and Business for that matter?) We’ve all been doing the exact same thing the NFL is doing and we’ve been doing it for years …for exactly those same reasons. We may not have an official ‘Rooney Rule’ but there is not an HR/Diversity department out there that is not hyper-sensitive to the demographics of interview pools and hiring profiles. Every Department Chair and Dean knows exactly the prescribed skin-tone/gender range of faculty and staff it will take to meet their ‘diversity’ targets and get a raise.

    It’s hard enough to hire and promote the very best when that’s your goal; it’s impossible if the primary criteria becomes “I’m going to put a Black Female on the Supreme Court”, or anywhere else for that matter.

    “The best way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” (John Roberts). It’s really very simple.

  4. The statistics quoted in this article are meaningless. Whike it is true that blacks are 12% of the US population and that 7.2% of professors are black. However only 7.1% of blacks have Phd’s which is the correct figure for comparison.

    1. Ummmm, isn’t that 7.1% OF 12%?
      And how much of that 7.1% is in Social Justice fields?

      In other words, what percent of Black PhDs get hired — and what percent of White PhDs get hired?

      1. Actually David’s numbers are off-base….or his description is misleading.

        In any case, the number of Blacks who hold PhD’s seems to be a very difficult number to find. It does seem certain, however, that 7.1% of all Blacks distinctly do not have PhD’s…even though 7.1% of all doctorates earned in 2019 went to Black candidates.

        One source I found (https://www.diverseeducation.com/demographics/latinx/article/15104862/not-enough-black-males-qualified-to-work-in-higher-education-cliche)
        tells us, “Data indicates that approximately … 88,000 Black males have earned a Doctoral degree.” If we assume that Black women earned another 88,000, then we might guesstimate that there are 176K Blacks with PhD’s which gives us a total population % (of all Blacks) of .4%. … IF those numbers are accurate. That same article goes on to say, “Further disaggregation of this data indicated that only 3 percent of Black males hold positions as a faculty member in higher education (of the .4%??) (Turner & Grauerholtz, 2017).” If that’s correct then we can calculate that .01% of all Blacks have PhD’s AND work in higher ed.

        Coming at it from a different angle, https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=61#:~:text=Of%20all%20full%2Dtime%20faculty,Black%20females%2C%20Hispanic%20males%2C%20and … we can roughly calculate that 6% of all full-time faculty in post-secondary degree-granting institutions are Black, meaning 94% are not.

        If that’s true, then a normal demographic distribution would tend to lead us to conclude that 94% of all faculty promotions are given to non-Black candidates. And that 93% of all new hires (of newly minted PhD’s) would also be non-Black. But your point is a good one, of those 176K Blacks who hold PhD’s…of that 7.1% who just received their PhD… how many hold them in fields like Chemistry, Engineering, Physics, etc. and how many in Ethnic Studies?

  5. Higher Ed needs to worry more about what is happening in Ottawa, 120 dB air horns being far more effective than law suits.

  6. What Flores simply does not understand is what happened to him, if true, is just the inevitable consequence of all affirmative action programs. Affirmative action programs eventually morph into racial hiring quota programs. Organizations don’t like that—especially when it hurts their bottom line—and have learned how to circumvent them. I’m not saying that’s what happened to him, but it is within the realm of possibility.

    That said, perhaps there was nothing nefarious going on and he just wasn’t the best candidate. I’m curious why he believed he was a strong candidate for the head coaching job in New York in the first place; he had a losing record at Miami. Maybe he thought he was a shoe in because of his race. Maybe the interview didn’t go very well. We probably will never know.

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