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Squires: Brian Flores’ despicable NFL-plantation analogy reveals the weakness of his complaint and his backbone

Op-ed
David Santiago/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

Only time will tell the long-term impact of the lawsuit Brian Flores recently filed against the NFL. Flores could end up permanently destroying his coaching career, or he could open doors for black coaches, general managers, and team owners.

The part of Flores’ lawsuit that immediately stood out to me was his description of the relationship between the league’s owners and players.

“In certain critical ways, the NFL is racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation. Its 32 owners—none of whom are Black—profit substantially from the labor of NFL players, 70% of whom are Black. The owners watch the games from atop NFL stadiums in their luxury boxes, while their majority-Black workforce put their bodies on the line every Sunday, taking vicious hits and suffering debilitating injuries to their bodies and their brains while the NFL and its owners reap billions of dollars.”

This type of hyperbole is to be expected from activists, journalists, and disgruntled athletes. It is unheard of from a head coach. Unfortunately, it fits a familiar pattern.

Brian Flores is the latest black public figure to invoke the horrors of slavery and racial violence as a rhetorical device for his own personal benefit.

He was asked why he chose that comparison during an interview on CBS. He had no answer. That tells me this wasn’t a revelation after a period of deep reflection. It was a cynical ploy to play on the emotions of his supporters in the court of public opinion, not members of a jury who would have to consider real evidence.

The argument being made by Flores and his attorneys is based on Ibram Kendi’s contention that disparities between black and white people in social outcomes are due to racist policies. That view is now accepted as a cultural truism. This is why virtually every sports media outlet believes “systemic racism” is to blame whenever black representation in a given field isn’t somewhere between 13% and the percentage of black people in that field. Somehow this argument is never made in reverse. The dearth of black quarterbacks used to be attributed to racism, but no one asks why there are no white cornerbacks and very few white running backs.

Flores is not the first black man in football to do this. Colin Kaepernick caused controversy when he compared the NFL Combine to a slave auction during the first episode of his Netflix series. In one scene, the former quarterback turned activist showed players walking off the field back in time, where their athletic shorts were traded for tattered pants and shackles.

The message was clear: Young men who trained their entire lives for the opportunity to make millions are no different from slaves being traded at an auction. It was a gripping visual, but the comparison completely falls apart once you realize hockey players also go through athletic drills at the NHL Combine.

Other black elites have shown they are also oppressed.

Sean “Diddy” Combs did the same thing in a letter to General Motors demanding more money for black media companies. The letter starts with a quote about injustice from Bishop Desmond Tutu, the late anti-apartheid leader. The next line directly invoked the murder of George Floyd.

“The same feet these companies use to stand with us in solidarity are the same feet they use to stand on our necks.”

Combs chastised corporate America for manipulating the black community with incremental changes in its business practices, but he had no problem using Georges Floyd’s death to extort white business executives. His passive-aggressive shakedown strategy was punctuated by one of his final lines: “If you love us, pay us!”

Justin Fairfax, former lieutenant governor of Virginia, also invoked George Floyd when describing how he was treated by the media and his political peers after two women accused him of sexual assault. Fairfax even went a step further by saying he was treated like Emmett Till because he was denied due process. In his mind, having other self-interested politicians say they believe your accusers is the same as being beaten so badly that your mother can’t recognize your face.

Americans have become accustomed to this behavior from elected officials who use terms like “Jim Crow 2.0” to describe state voting laws they oppose. We expect politicians to do and say whatever they think will advance their own political interests.

I have much higher expectations for black people who complain that our history is being sanitized and silenced to comfort white people who can’t handle honest conversations about race.

The truth is that nothing diminishes historical injustice more than ripping it out of context and casually invoking it for personal gain. It is shameful, despicable behavior. Black millionaires who treat the history of their ancestors as a trump card in political fights or business deals do much more damage to how we understand the past than parents accused of opposing CRT.

It is especially disheartening to see black men like Brian Flores engage in this type of behavior. It makes the speaker look weak and unable to stand on the merits of his argument. It’s a play for sympathy and solidarity with people on social media who will repost the message with black fist emojis for emphasis.

Men who behave that way have too much jelly in their legs and not enough steel in their spines. Some may accomplish their short-term goals, but you can’t put a price tag on dignity and self-respect.
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