Panthers assistant coach Steve Wilks joins lawsuit against NFL claiming racial discrimination

Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks speaks to field judge Rick Patterson (15) during the first half of an NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

The Highlights
  • Carolina Panthers assistant coach Steve Wilks and football coach Ray Horton join lawsuit in April 2022
  • Brian Flores initially filed lawsuit in February 2022
  • Lawsuit alleges racial discrimination in NFL hiring, retention

Carolina Panthers assistant coach Steve Wilks is joining a lawsuit against the National Football League and six teams, alleging racial discrimination in the hiring and retention of Black head coaches.

Brian Flores, who coached the Miami Dolphins for three seasons before being fired at the beginning of the year, initially sued the NFL and three teams, claiming the NFL remains “rife with racism.”

In the 58-page lawsuit filed in February, Flores outlined numerous instances he believes show the league’s disparities in treatment of Black head coaches, coordinators and general managers. Flores said a job interview with the New York Giants was a sham, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims the organization was one of several interviewing minority candidates to simply “check the box” of the NFL’s diversity requirements.

On Tuesday, Channel 9 learned Wilks and football coach Ray Horton are joining the lawsuit.

Wilks claims he was discriminated against by the Arizona Cardinals in 2018. In the lawsuit, he claimed he was hired as a “bridge coach” and was “not given any meaningful chance to succeed.” Wilks said he was fired after just one season and was replaced by a white coach, who he claims had no prior NFL coaching experience and was coming off multiple losing seasons as a head coach at Texas Tech University

According to Wilks, his white general manager at the time was convicted for a DUI during the offseason, yet was given a contract extension.

Wilks said if he was given the same opportunities as his replacement, he would have succeeded as well.

Statement from Wilks:

“When Coach Flores filed this action, I knew I owed it to myself, and to all Black NFL coaches and aspiring coaches, to stand with him. This lawsuit has shed further important light on a problem that we all know exists, but that too few are willing to confront. Black coaches and candidates should have exactly the same ability to become employed, and remain employed, as white coaches and candidates. That is not currently the case, and I look forward to working with Coach Flores and Coach Horton to ensure that the aspiration of racial equality in the NFL becomes a reality.”

Horton was a long-time NFL coach and defensive coordinator when he was interviewed for the Tennessee Titans head coach position in January 2016. He claims it turned out to be a sham interview only done to “comply with the Rooney Rule and to demonstrate an appearance of equal opportunity and a false willingness to consider a minority candidate for the position.”

According to Horton, the Titans’ hired Mike Mularkey, a white candidate, for the position.

Later, in 2020, Mularkey admitted in an interview with the Steelers Realm podcast that the Titans “[T]old me I was going to be the head coach in 2016, before they went through the Rooney Rule. And so I sat there knowing I was the head coach in 2016, as they went through this fake hiring process knowing, knowing a lot of the coaches that they were interviewing, knowing how much they prepared to go through those interviews, knowing that everything they could do and they had no chance to get that job.”

Rooney Rule was established in 2003 and says all 32 NFL clubs must interview at least two women and/or persons of color when seeking to fill prominent positions.

Statement from Horton:

“I am proud to stand with Coach Flores and Coach Wilks in combatting the systemic discrimination which has plagued the NFL for far too long. When I learned from Coach Mularkey’s statements that my head coach interview with the Titans was a sham, I was devastated and humiliated. By joining this case, I am hoping to turn that experience into a positive and make lasting change and create true equal opportunity in the future.”

Flores statement:

“I continue to be humbled by the outpouring of support in connection with my claims against the NFL and applaud Steve Wilks and Ray Horton for standing up against systemic race discrimination. Their claims are the unfortunate reality of the problems facing Black coaches in the NFL which our collective hope in this case is to end once and for all.”

Channel 9 has reached out to the NFL for comment on the latest claims but has not heard back at this point.

Return to this story for updates.

(WATCH BELOW: ‘Rife with racism’: Impact of lawsuit against NFL could be felt leaguewide)