I am not now, nor have I ever been, a lawyer. No interest.
But I do have a love for words and language, so I'm sure I know what the phrase "without merit" means.
Does the NFL?
Within moments of Brian Flores filing his civil lawsuit against the league and its teams alleging years of racial discrimination in hiring practices, the NFL sent an email blast to every media member in its address book, a three-sentence statement that ended by claiming Flores' suit is "without merit."
I'm a firm believer in taking people at their actions, not their words. It's easy to say pretty much anything, but it's what you do — from how you treat others to how you spend your money to where you devote your time — where true intentions can be found.
On Feb. 1, the NFL said "without merit."
In the months since, the NFL's actions have said "Brian Flores is right, even non-football fans are paying attention and we have to at least make it look like we want to make things better."
The "ah, spit, we in trouble" actions continued apace Tuesday, when the league sent out an email announcing a new initiative to increase the number of non-white medical athletic trainers at team facilities. The NFL, NFL Physicians Society, and Professional Football Athletic Trainer Society are partnering with four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) medical schools to provide students with opportunities to complete a medical rotation with the training staff of member clubs.
Only eight teams are taking part, and will get two residents each for the coming season. It's expected the program will expand in 2023, though how many more teams will take part isn't specified.
It's a way to help "increase and diversify the pipeline" of non-white students interested in pro sports medicine. Currently, 86 percent of NFL Physicians Society members identify as white, though the athletic trainers group is more diverse.
The program to help diversify medical staffs follows commissioner Roger Goodell's declaration in late March that every team is required to add a low-level offensive assistant to its staff, and that person must be either non-white or a woman. Three-quarters of the 40 head coaching hires from 2016-2021 came from the offensive side of the ball, and in 2021 there were just five non-white offensive coordinators in the league.
There's also the current Coach and Front Office Accelerator in Atlanta, where all teams were invited to choose one non-white or female front-office personnel member and assistant coach to go to the team owners' meetings for "leadership development and sessions on the business of football ... [and to] engage in candid discussions on how to take the next step in becoming a coach or front office executive." The franchise owners meetings' also yielded news Tuesday of an expansion of the Rooney Rule to include the quarterbacks coach position.
That tweak and the accelerator program are typical NFL ideas: good in theory, but in practice ... well, we'll see. The Chiefs' Eric Bieniemy is one of the coaches who was chosen to attend — does Bieniemy really need lessons on leadership and face time with team owners? No one has had more interviews over the past few years than Bieniemy, and no one has a better resume.
A couple of teams didn't nominate two people to attend, which makes one wonder if they either a) don't care to help their own people or b) don't have non-white front-office personnel or coaches they intend on letting climb their internal ladder even a little bit. Plus, club owners weren't required to take part. You'd think they all have someone in their ear saying that because of Flores' lawsuit they should do the bare minimum and go, but these are NFL team owners we're talking about.
This also isn't the first time the league has supported a symposium with a similar aim. Those didn't have staying power, nor did they much help: In 2021 there were as many Black head coaches (three) as white coordinators named Shane (Steichen in Philadelphia, Waldron in Seattle and Bowen in Tennessee).
Also notable in the accelerator program and offensive assistant initiative: The NFL intentionally uses the nebulous term "diverse." As we've seen in recent years, teams increasingly have no problems hiring white women to front-office roles, and nearly all of the female assistant coaches are also white.
The NFL's problem remains hiring Black people for leadership roles, specifically Black men.
At the end of the day, if two young HBCU-educated medical students get the chance to become team physicians, and even one Black coach at this week's accelerator becomes a head coach in a year or two, those programs will have done something.
But the NFL said Flores' suit was without merit.
Its actions since prove the suit is anything but.