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Roger Goodell calls NFL’s hiring results ‘unacceptable’ for diversity

Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all NFL teams Saturday on diversity and integrity-of-the-game issues, in response to the lawsuit filed by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores. (Brett Carlsen/AP)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the league’s 32 teams Saturday that the results of the current hiring cycle for head coaches have been “unacceptable” with regard to diversity, saying the league will retain outside experts to help “reevaluate and examine all policies” guiding minority hiring.

Goodell made his comments in a memo sent to the teams and all NFL employees four days after former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores sued the league and teams Tuesday, accusing them of racial discrimination. The NFL has only one active Black head coach. No Black head coaches have been hired so far this offseason as teams have worked to fill nine head coaching vacancies leaguewide.

In his memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, Goodell also said that the tanking and tampering allegations made against the Dolphins by Flores in his lawsuit “will be reviewed thoroughly and independently.” The memo marked Goodell’s first comments on the accusations made by Flores.

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“Racism and any form of discrimination is contrary to the NFL’s values,” Goodell wrote. “We have made significant efforts to promote diversity and adopted numerous policies and programs which have produced positive change in many areas, however we must acknowledge that particularly with respect to head coaches the results have been unacceptable. We will reevaluate and examine all policies, guidelines and initiatives relating to diversity, equity and inclusion, including as they relate to gender.

“We are retaining outside experts to assist in this review and will also solicit input from current and former players and coaches, advocates and other authorities in this area. Our goal is simple: make our efforts and those of the clubs more effective so that real and tangible results will be achieved.”

The NFL and the three teams specifically named in Flores’s lawsuit — the Dolphins, New York Giants and Denver Broncos — previously denied Flores’s discrimination allegations. The league said in a statement Tuesday, soon after the suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, that the accusations were “without merit.”

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and Broncos executive John Elway were more aggressive in their denials, issuing statements late Wednesday and Thursday calling Flores’s accusations “false” and “defamatory.” The Giants issued a detailed denial Thursday that included the itinerary of Flores’s interview for their head coaching job. Goodell, however, said Saturday the issues raised merit empathy and should prompt further examination and action.

“We understand the concerns expressed by Coach Flores and others this week,” Goodell wrote. “While the legal process moves forward, we will not wait to reassess and modify our strategies to ensure that they are consistent with our values and longstanding commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. In particular, we recognize the need to understand the lived experiences of diverse members of the NFL family to ensure that everyone has access to opportunity and is treated with respect and dignity.”

Flores was one of three Black head coaches in the NFL this season. Two of them were fired, Flores by the Dolphins and David Culley by the Houston Texans. That has left the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin as the only remaining Black head coach.

Six of the nine teams with head coaching vacancies this offseason have chosen new coaches. All six are White. Five of those hires are official. The sixth — Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell becoming the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings — cannot become official until after the Rams play in the Super Bowl.

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Flores’s lawyers reacted with skepticism to Goodell’s remarks.

“The statement made today by the Commissioner is, on the surface, a positive first step, but we suspect that this is more of a public relations ploy than real commitment to change,” attorneys Douglas H. Wigdor and John Elefterakis said in a joint statement.

Flores’s attorneys said they “would be pleased to talk to the Commissioner about real change” but they have not heard from anyone in the NFL.

“Absent such a discussion followed by unbiased and concrete change, we believe that a court or governmental agency must order a federal monitor to oversee the NFL as the NFL cannot continue to police itself,” they said.

Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) called this week for a House subcommittee to promptly hold a hearing about systemic racism in the NFL.

In his lawsuit, Flores also accused Ross of offering him $100,000 per loss in a 2019 bid to secure the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft and of attempting to arrange for Flores to meet with a “prominent quarterback” from another team in violation of league tampering rules.

NFL plans to investigate Brian Flores’s tanking, tampering allegations against Dolphins

“We also take seriously any issue relating to the integrity of NFL games,” Goodell wrote. “These matters will be reviewed thoroughly and independently. We expect that these independent experts will receive full cooperation from everyone associated with the league or any member club as this work proceeds.”

Goodell’s comments in Saturday’s memo came ahead of his annual state-of-the-league news conference during Super Bowl week. He is scheduled to speak Wednesday in Inglewood, Calif.

“There is much work to do,” Goodell wrote, “and we will embrace this moment and seize the opportunity to become a stronger, more inclusive league.”

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