Bezos’ Amazon playbook not the answer for the NFL

Don’t miss a chance to improve record on race

- Douglas J. Wigdor Attorney Douglas H. Wigdor is founding partner of Wigdor LLP in New York.

The NFL is looking to make a trade. Would swapping Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Commanders, for Jeff Bezos, the architect of Amazon, be a quick fix?

Replacing an owner under siege with one of the world’s most high-profile businessme­n sounds intriguing, but history shows it would not change the NFL’s unacceptab­le racial imbalance in ownership or management.

Bezos reportedly is considerin­g a bid to become majority owner of a team in the NFL, most likely the Commanders. Snyder, the embattled owner of the Commanders, is at the center of several investigat­ions and lawsuits concerning sexual harassment and assault, toxic workplace culture and even fraud on the public and his team’s tickethold­ers.

When an opportunit­y to buy a franchise comes up, Bezos certainly could outbid any competitio­n. The question is whether his brand of management and the terrible record of how people of color are treated at Amazon would move the NFL forward or leave it stuck where it already is: failing to improve and getting worse on how Black coaches and other employees are treated.

What federal lawsuit documents

On Feb. 1, my client Brian Flores, former head coach of the Miami Dolphins and now senior defensive assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, filed his case against the NFL, Dolphins and New York Giants, as well as other NFL teams on behalf of himself and a class of other Black NFL coaches.

Flores later was joined in his case by Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, who like Flores also claim they went through sham job interviews, unequal pay and other discrimina­tory treatment.

The federal lawsuit documents the NFL’s history of racial exclusion and double standards. After hitting a peak of about seven Black NFL head coaches a few times in the past 20 years, this season started with only three Black head coaches (9%) in a league where about 70% of the players are Black men.

Wilks was named interim head coach of the Carolina Panthers in the past month, after his predecesso­r was let go with a 1-4 record for the season and 11-27 record overall.

Despite the spotlight, NFL teams have not changed their practices. In November, the Indianapol­is Colts hired a white ex-NFL player who has no coaching experience in the NFL or college as their interim head coach.

What Rooney Rule?

Because the coaching slot became available in the middle of the season, the Rooney Rule – which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and general manager positions – does not apply. In making the hire, the Colts overlooked dozens of highly qualified and experience­d Black NFL coaches, including Marcus Brady, whom the Colts recently fired as their offensive coordinato­r.

Colts owner Jim Irsay is part of the groundswel­l in the NFL looking for ways to expel Snyder – a welcome show of outrage against owner misconduct, though belated. It took a sexual assault allegation to surface for momentum to gather for even the possibilit­y of action against Snyder.

The NFL and its teams talk about a desire to address its record on race, while their actions are virtually all geared to avoiding the subject and kicking the can down the road. Rather than engage in a real discussion with Flores and a neutral mediator, the NFL and teams involved in the lawsuit have asked that the court force the case into confidenti­al arbitratio­n, where the proceeding­s, arguments and evidence could not be viewed by the public.

This is not consistent with a business unafraid of its record and ready to do the hard work to make things right for the Black individual­s who have made the NFL what it is today.

Amazon’s practices show similar pattern. After the police killing of George Floyd in 2020, Amazon and its CEOs, Bezos and Andy Jassy, issued public relations statements on race in the United States. At the same time, Bezos’ company used delay tactics and an adversaria­l approach to employee complaints and union organizing efforts, rather than engage with employees’ legitimate concerns on discrimina­tory double standards and managerial misconduct.

Amazon’s record on race and retaliatio­n is notorious and dates far back into Bezos’ tenure, long before he left as the company’s CEO in July 2021. Until August 2020, the elite “S-Team” composed of two dozen of Bezos’ top lieutenant­s did not include any Black executives.

Much like the NFL, this contrasts with the 26.5% of Amazon’s rank-andfile employees who are Black, with 85% of that number working in Amazon warehouses. Our firm, Wigdor LLP, also represents women of color who have filed lawsuits contending that trends in Amazon’s hiring and employment practices trap Black and other underrepre­sented employees in jobs at lower levels and lower pay than their qualificat­ions and job duties merit.

Over and over, Amazon has treated women who raised complaints as enemies or ignored their concerns – as illustrate­d by cases we are pursuing around the country. Charlotte Newman, a Black woman who works for Amazon in the Washington, D.C., area, filed an internal complaint of discrimina­tion and sexual harassment on Juneteenth in 2020, and although her harasser was terminated three months later, her complaints about broader discrimina­tion in promotions, leveling and other areas were largely ignored.

After Newman filed her federal lawsuit against Amazon in March 2021, more than 220 Harvard Business School alumni and faculty (Newman also is an alum) signed an online petition that called for Amazon to take concrete action on unequal pay and other practices affecting women and persons of color.

Nothing in Bezos’ track record makes him a candidate for ownership who would support or lead the charge for a break with the NFL’s past on race.

Who owns teams and is at the top of any organizati­on makes a tremendous difference. Without diverse, and specifical­ly Black, owners and head personnel, racial inequality will not be seen as a top priority and will not be understood, and efforts will not have the same credibilit­y or be as effective.

In the case on behalf of Flores, Wilks and Horton, the relief that has been requested from the court includes commonsens­e measures that the NFL could put in place to promote the hiring and retention of Black coaches and the emergence of Black ownership in the NFL.

How NFL could promote diversity

NFL must increase the influence of Black Americans in the league by taking steps to promote Black ownership

Those steps include:

⬤ A court-appointed monitor to work on race-related issues.

⬤ Making interviews and communicat­ions regarding hiring and firing decisions about coaches public record.

⬤ Requiring semiannual performanc­e evaluation­s and formal criteria for coaching jobs, use of standard contracts for coaches, strict guidelines for Black representa­tion in feeder positions such as quarterbac­k coaches and assistant offensive coordinato­rs.

⬤ Banning forced arbitratio­n for discrimina­tion/retaliatio­n claims.

However, those measures would not be enough on their own without steps to finally introduce Black team owners into the league.

Rather than simply taking up the next white billionair­e in line for a franchise, the NFL must increase the influence of Black Americans in the league by taking steps to promote Black ownership. It is within the power of the NFL’s owners to fund a committee dedicated to sourcing Black investors who could take majority ownership of NFL teams.

It would be especially fitting for the Washington Commanders to be the first team owned by a Black majority owner, or at least where the NFL starts such initiative­s. Not only did Snyder resist changing the hateful team name for two decades before finally relenting, it was the first owner of the team, George Preston Marshall, who in the 1930s put together a corrupt “gentleman’s agreement“to keep Black players out of the NFL that lasted until 1946, and who made sure his team was the last one to finally add Black players to its roster in 1962.

If the NFL is looking for a quick fix for its Dan Snyder problem, having Jeff Bezos as the new owner of the Commanders might look like a good option that the required three-fourths of team owners would quickly approve.

For the Black players and coaches of the NFL, and Black Americans in general, the move would be another missed opportunit­y for change.

 ?? KEITH SRAKOCIC/AP ?? Brian Flores, former head coach of the Miami Dolphins and now senior defensive assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, filed a lawsuit against the NFL on Feb. 1.
KEITH SRAKOCIC/AP Brian Flores, former head coach of the Miami Dolphins and now senior defensive assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, filed a lawsuit against the NFL on Feb. 1.
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