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NFL, MLS share several common owners; now they face similar race discrimination claims

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As the NFL continues to crack down on explosive allegations of racial discrimination against black coachesA similar legal battle recently began on another major front in American sports—professional football teams, including those owned by the same people who run the NFL.

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Ricky Hill, a black former professional football coach and former English professional football player, recently sued the Major League Soccer, the United Football Leagues and various clubs including Atlanta United FC and Charlotte FC, both of which are jointly owned by NFL teams in Atlanta and Charlotte. In the lawsuit, Hill accuses them of racial discrimination, alleging that the clubs hired white or other non-black candidates who were “objectively less qualified” than Hill after he applied for the same job.

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Hill wants the U.S. professional football community to know “that blacks continue to be largely and disproportionately absent from leadership positions,” his attorney, Steve Shebar, said.

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Filed in federal court in Chicago, Hill’s lawsuit against MLS mirrors that of former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. who sued the NFL for related reasons in February. Both lawsuits blame America’s leading professional leagues in their sports for failing to make significant progress in hiring black coaches despite the diversity hiring initiatives each league has implemented over the past 20 years.

Both leagues also share significant ownership – and this has not gone unnoticed by Hill and others seeking change. Of the 28 teams in MLS, seven are owned and operated by NFL team owners, all white, except for Seattle Seahawks owner Jody Allen, who partially owns the Seattle Sounders.

In addition to Atlanta and Charlotte, the list includes Dallas (Kansas City Chiefs), Colorado Rapids (Los Angeles Rams), Orlando City (Minnesota Vikings), Columbus Crew (Cleveland Browns) and New England Revolution (New England Patriots).

The three families that own MLS and NFL teams also run franchises that have never had a fickle black head coach in either league.

Former English footballer Ricky Hill.
Former English footballer Ricky Hill.

“You have owners that are also part of the league (NFL) where it’s clear they don’t follow this policy or it’s ineffective, and now we’re also dealing with those same owners in our league,” New England said. Revolution goaltender Earl Edwards, president of Black Players for Change, an organization of MLS players and coaches fighting racial injustice.

“It’s just an interesting approach, or an approach in terms of believing that they will act in good faith in our league when it’s clear that there are difficulties in another league that they are also in,” Edwards said. did not participate in Hill’s trial.

There have been only eight non-permanent black head coaches in MLS’s 27-year history, and there are currently three of them in a 28-team league where about 25% of its players have been black in recent years. Hill’s lawsuit notes that there is only one black head coach in the USL Division 2 championship out of 27 teams. Similarly, in the NFL in recent years, the league population has been around 60-70% black, but there are only six head coaches of color, including three black coaches.

MLS clubs in Atlanta and Charlotte did not respond to a question about Hill’s claims. According to a report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports last year, MLS notes that it has the highest percentage of coaches of color in U.S. male professional sports, at 43% minority, mostly Hispanic or Latino.

MORE: Former Dolphins coach Brian Flores alleges racism in hiring

OPINION: In Brian Flores’ lawsuit, where are the white players and coaches?

But last year, the league acknowledged that it needed to improve the situation with black candidates. It hired its first director of diversity last year and last December approved a policy requiring clubs to consider at least two non-white candidates as finalists for open athletic positions, including at least one black candidate.

The league said in a statement that it takes any allegations of discrimination seriously.

“We are committed to maintaining a discrimination-free workplace and fair and inclusive practices for all job applicants,” the MLS said in a statement. “Late last year, MLS became aware of certain allegations made by Mr. Hill. We remain confident in the appropriateness of our conduct and will defend ourselves against these allegations.”

The USL said that USL clubs are responsible for hiring decisions “in accordance with all applicable laws” and that they are exploring additional diversity initiatives “that will create more opportunities for coaches of color.”

Hill case

Hill, 63, has watched the game from multiple angles over the past five decades. As a player, Hill played for England from 1982 to 1986. As a coach, he led the Tampa Bay Rowdies minor league from 2011 to 2014 and won a championship in 2012. As a player-coach at Tampa Bay, he was named APL Coach of the Year in 1992 and was also selected to the All-League First Team as a linebacker.

Off the field, Hill was also heavily involved in the cause after facing open racial violence in England and later overseeing recruitment practices in American professional football and soccer leagues. Last year, he even published a book about his life in football called Love of the Game: The Man Who Brought the Rooney Rule to the UK, a reference to an NFL rule that originally required teams to interview at least one diverse candidate for the post. chapters. coaching jobs.

“It is extremely disappointing that NFL owners who have also acquired MLS franchises are unwilling to implement fair and inclusive recruitment practices,” Hill said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports. “There is no excuse for any franchise that operates solely on the basis of familiarity, culture, and a known preferred network of contacts or agents to fill vacancies, while generally not considering a racially diverse workforce.”

His lawsuit seeks damages, an injunction to correct the defendants’ “discriminatory” policies and practices, and a declarative determination that their behavior and practices violate laws. His lawsuit does not purport to be a class action lawsuit, unlike Flores’s lawsuit against the NFL.

► In the case of Charlotte FC, Hill’s lawsuit states that his agent, Kieren Keane, expressed interest on Hill’s behalf in the then vacant head coaching position at Charlotte in June and July 2021. He contacted the organization’s president, athletic director and technical director and provided a resume, according to the lawsuit.

“To date, there has never been any contact or confirmation of Hill’s interest in working with Charlotte,” the lawsuit says.

Instead, Charlotte hired Miguel Ángel Ramírez as the club’s first head coach. Hill’s lawsuit notes that Ramirez is “white, of Spanish descent, had no professional playing career, and had only recent experience as a senior professional head coach.”

Ramirez was fired in May after less than a year, going 5-8-1 in 14 league games.

► In the case of Atlanta United Football Club, Hill’s lawsuit stated that he had expressed an interest in working for the organization, including as a reserve team coach for Atlanta United 2. don’t hire him.

Instead, the organization promoted a white Jack Collison from within the organization and appointed another white coach as director of their academy.

“Both of these white employees selected to replace Hill had far less experience and success as professional football coaches and/or technical directors than did Hill,” Hill’s lawsuit states.

“Long Ways”

Hill’s lawsuit mentions a similar pattern with other professional clubs. Shebar, Hill’s attorney, noted that MLS’s previous hiring diversity policy had little effect on “the issue of black underrepresentation in leadership positions.” It’s been around since 2007 and has since been called “toothless” by Edwards, the Revolution’s goaltender. Previously, the league required only one diverse candidate to be interviewed for a position.

In contrast, the new policy clarified public sanctions for teams that do not comply with it, including fines of up to $50,000 for first violations and $100,000 thereafter.

Former Los Angeles Galaxy player Coby Jones told USA TODAY Sports that the new policy is a “minor step”. He remains the only American-born black head coach to have worked in MLS, but it was only one match against Galaxy in 2008 on an interim basis.

“I think there’s still a long way to go,” Jones told USA TODAY Sports. “I think it’s about the simplicity of actually getting active and hiring people. I don’t think it’s always like, “OK, we’re going to run this program. We’re going to start this process.” … Will it do something for everyone in 15 years? This is a question. I think just giving people a chance, sometimes learning on the job, is the right way, because that’s been done in the past.”

Asked if he thought the lawsuit would help progress or not, Jones said: “I don’t know if ‘help’ is the right word. I think it might force something.”

This is the crux of Hill’s lawsuit and Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL. Both saw how various league policies didn’t work. They decided that a trial was needed instead.

“Unfortunately, it remains clear that the NFL cannot control itself, which is why we look forward to continuing with the lawsuit, proving all of Bryan’s allegations, as well as statements from a class of black executives, coaches, and candidates, and forcing real change in the NFL,” Flores’ lawyers said in a statement dated August 2.

in MLS, Black players for change closely followed the recent test of the new diversity recruitment policy. This year, DC United fired Argentina head coach Hernan Lozada…


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