Apr 11, 2022 - Sports

Titans accused of racial discrimination in federal lawsuit

Ray Horton in 2016 at the Cleveland Browns training complex.

The Tennessean Titans were singled out in a federal racial discrimination lawsuit last week.

  • Veteran NFL assistant coach Ray Horton claimed the team gave him a "sham interview" in 2016 for its vacant head coaching job, which eventually went to white coach Mike Mularkey.

Driving the news: Horton joined in a class-action lawsuit initially filed by coach Brian Flores, who was fired by the Dolphins after going 9-8 last year and is now a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

  • The plaintiffs claim the NFL's hiring practices and promotions discriminate against Black coaches, who are also fired quicker than their white counterparts.

Why it matters: The NFL sought to improve representation among its coaching ranks by implementing the Rooney Rule in 2002, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for vacancies.

  • Despite that requirement, there was only one Black head coach among the NFL's 32 teams when Flores filed his lawsuit in January.

Details: During a 2020 podcast interview, Mularkey detailed how he was told he'd get the job before other candidates, including Horton, were even interviewed.

  • He said he knew he'd be named head coach and that the other candidates had "no chance to get the job."
  • The podcast was not widely circulated when it came out that January, but was the evidence Horton used to join Flores' suit.

The other side: The Titans denied the claims, saying in a statement to ESPN that its 2016 search was a "thoughtful and competitive process" that followed the league's guidelines and "our own organizational standards."

  • "No decision was made, and no decision was communicated, prior to the completion of all interviews. While we are proud of our commitment to diversity, we are dedicated to continued growth as an organization to foster diversity and inclusion in our workplace and community."

Be smart: The plaintiffs in the lawsuit have made eight proposals for change.

  • The plaintiffs say the NFL should promote Black franchise ownership and create new, more "meaningful incentives" for hiring and promoting Black coaches, including high draft pick compensation and extra salary cap space.
  • The NFL should also require teams to have a quarterbacks or assistant quarterbacks coach who is Black, since those positions are frequent launching pads for future head coaches, plaintiffs say.
  • The league announced a new requirement in late March, before Horton joined the lawsuit, that teams employ either a woman or person of color to serve as an offensive assistant.
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