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Former Arizona Cardinals coach Steve Wilks joins discrimination lawsuit against NFL

Wilks’ attorneys alleged in the lawsuit that he was discriminated against by the Cardinals, stating he was hired as a “bridge coach."
Published: Apr. 7, 2022 at 4:01 PM MST
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GLENDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5/AP) -- Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks has joined two former NFL coaches in suing the NFL, alleging racial discrimination in the “hiring, retention and termination of coaches.” Wilks served as the head coach of the Cardinals for one season in 2018 before he was fired, finishing with a dismal 3-13 record.

Wilks’ attorneys alleged in the lawsuit that he was discriminated against by the Cardinals, stating he was hired as a “bridge coach” and was not given any meaningful chance to succeed. The lawsuit also says Wilks was “unfairly and discriminatorily fired just after one season.” The attorneys add that he was not successful in the season due to general manager Steve Keim’s absence in the preseason due to his DUI suspension and was stuck with a rookie quarterback who was not ready. The lawsuit also alleges that Keim had drafted quarterback Josh Rosen, contrary to Wilks’ suggestion of trading up and taking Josh Allen.

“You can’t be mistreated because of your race, gender, religion age, disability,” said employment attorney Joshua Black, who is not involved in the case.

The lawsuit alleges racial discrimination, stating, “Mr. Wilks was replaced by a white coach, Kliff Kingsbury, who had no prior NFL coaching experience and was coming off multiple losing seasons as a head coach at Texas Tech University.” Lawyers allege Kingsbury was given more of an opportunity to succeed with quarterback Kyler Murray, and if Wilks’ had the same chance, he would have been successful as well. The lawsuit also calls Wilks’ head coach interview a “sham” and was only done to comply with the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and executive jobs.

Black said the lawsuit is a look into the NFL’s treatment among coaches. “To cut him when others of a different ethnicity are not treated the same, it at least gives us an inference, some sort of inference, that maybe there’s not equal treatment,” said Black.

“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,” Wilks said. “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.”

Wilks joins former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and Ray Horton, a former NFL assistant coach. Flores sued the NFL and three teams on Feb. 1 after he was fired as Miami Dolphins coach in January. The lawsuit alleges that the league has discriminated against Flores and other Black coaches for racial reasons, denying them positions as head coaches and other top coaching posts and a chance to be a general manager. Flores was 24-25 in three seasons in Miami but had winning seasons in 2020 and 2021.

The Cardinals released a statement about Wilks’ decision to join the lawsuit.

“The decisions we made after the 2018 season were very difficult ones. But as we said at the time, they were entirely driven by what was in the best interests of our organization and necessary for team improvement. We are confident that the facts reflect that and demonstrate that these allegations are untrue.”

Black says the lawsuit can serve as a learning lesson for the future. “Whether the lawsuit is ultimately successful or not, sometimes just by shining a light on that mistreatment can have a positive effect,” said Black.

The 2018 Cardinals season was among the worst in team history. The 3-13 record was the team’s worst record since 2000, and the Cardinals went 1-7 at home. Wilks was fired a day after the season ended. The Cardinals’ three wins came against the San Francisco 49ers in Weeks 5 and 8 and a win against the Green Bay Packers in Week 13. Rosen started 13 of the 14 games and finished with 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.