A fiery, passionate and defiant Brian Flores insisted he was not trying to insult Kenny Stills or minimize the social justice causes Stills champions when he played eight straight Jay-Z songs before Tuesday’s Dolphins practice — a decision that quickly ballooned into a national story.
Rather, he was trying to challenge the resolve and focus of a player who Flores acknowledged has not been good enough in recent weeks.
Flores, the son of Honduran immigrants who grew up in one of the roughest parts of Brooklyn, said that he supports Stills and the other players who kneel during the national anthem to protest systemic oppression.
It’s personal for him.
“Quite honestly, they’re bringing attention to my story, so let’s talk about that,” Flores said. “I’m the son of immigrants, I’m black, I grew up poor. I grew up in New York during the stop and frisk era, so I’ve been stopped because I fit a description before. So everything these guys protest, I’ve lived it, I’ve experienced it. I applaud those guys who protest. Whether it’s [Colin] Kaepernick or Eric Reid or Kenny, I applaud those guys.”
So why then did Flores play roughly a half-hour of songs by Jay-Z, knowing that just the day before Stills had criticized the hip-hop artist for seemingly siding with NFL ownership and against the players who protest when he said “we’ve moved past kneeling?”
To test the Dolphins’ highest-paid receiver.
It was “a challenge to Kenny to perform regardless of whatever’s going on outside,” Flores said. “I would say, and I’ve said this to him, he hasn’t performed up to that level over the course of this training camp, as I’ve seen it.”
Stills, for his part, tried to downplay the issue, saying Thursday that “it was just music.”
“We talked about it in-house and we handled it in-house, but for the most part, it was him trying to see if I could handle if someone was going to heckle me or play Jay-Z music in another stadium, if I was going to be mentally strong enough to withstand that type of treatment,” Stills added. “I’ve been dealing with this since 2016 – music, boos, racial slurs. I don’t think a little bit of Jay-Z is going to ruffle my feathers that bad.”
Flores, addressing reporters after Thursday night’s preseason game against the Jaguars, was mostly surprised and frustrated that something that he considered an in-house issue became a national story. When words of his hand-picked playlist — which was played during the portion of practice open to reporters — got out, it quickly mushroomed into a national controversy.
Many saw it as Flores siding with the owners over his own player.
But here’s what actually happened:
Before the music began and after it was turned off, Flores approached Stills and told him “this is a challenge to you to get open, catch the football and make plays for this team, regardless of what’s going on outside of this building.”
“... I understand why guys protest,” Flores continued. “And it’s important. But you know what else important to me? There’s 89 guys in that locker room who are counting on Kenny to get open, catch the football and perform for this team. That’s important to me. And if anybody’s got a problem with that, we’ve just got a problem. We’re going to agree to disagree. I feel like that’s important and that’s where I stand on this thing. And whatever scrutiny or media, whatever I get, that’s what I get.”
This is the second time this month that the Dolphins and Stills have found themselves at the intersection of sports, politics and race. Stills two weeks back criticized Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ decision to host a reelection fundraiser for President Donald Trump, saying support of Trump was inconsistent with Ross’ work for racial justice.