Two Nashville men, both former local college football players, say The Bachelor and The Bachelorette “reality” series offered them no level playing field when they tried out for leading roles on the television programs.
In a class-action racial discrimination complaint, plaintiffs Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson claim that ABC, and others associated with two TV shows, intentionally excluded “people of color” from a lead role in the popular The Bachelor and The Bachelorette television series.
The complaint — which one attorney involved called “groundbreaking” in that it appears to be the first discrimination complaint against a “reality” show — was filed Wednesday in U.S. district court in Nashville.
The federal court filing states, “Never, over 10 years and a combined total of 23 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, has either show ever featured a single person of color — whether African-American, Latino, Asian, or any other minority race or ethnicity — in the central role of the “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette.”
Contacted by The City Paper, representatives from ABC deferred to a spokeswoman from Warner Bros. who declined to comment on the complaint.
At a press conference in downtown Nashville, the two men (both Nashville natives) told reporters they felt they’d make suitable singles candidates for the shows, emphasizing their athletic pasts along with successful professional careers. The problem, they said, was that their tryouts didn’t last nearly as long as those of other candidates they’d witnessed.
Claybrooks, who now owns his own barbershop as well as an auto detailing business, played football at Middle Tennessee State University before graduating and playing in the Arena Football League.
Of his audition to be on the show Claybrooks said, “I noticed that the guys in front of me — the white males in front of me — took maybe 45 minutes to an hour, but I went up it took me maybe 15, 20 minutes. They rushed me through. They made me do a 360-degree turn. Once I did that, my interview was over.”
Johnson played football at Tennessee State University and later worked as a substitute teacher and football coach at a Huntsville, Ala., high school. He’s currently trying out as a receiver in the National Football League, according to the complaint.
Johnson said he didn’t even make it that far into the process but that a representative with the network asked him a few brief questions and sent him on his way.
The complaint was filed by noted Nashville civil rights attorney George Barrett along with attorneys Byron Perkins and Cyrus Mehri.
Barrett said given its history with civil rights sit-ins and the Freedom Riders, Nashville made a “great site” to file such a complaint of racial discrimination.
Mehri said an executive producer of the series said minority candidates didn’t come forward to tryout for the shows.
“This [complaint] is about purposeful discrimination,” Mehri added. “How do you explain zero for 23 in the 23 seasons of [these shows]? How do you explain no Hispanic, no Asian-American, no African-American lead roles on this show? They can’t explain it.”
The attorneys said they expect dozens, if not hundreds, of other plaintiffs to join the class-action complaint filed Wednesday. They have yet to disclose a specified amount of punitive damages sought.
Johnson said his experience with the ABC shows is indicative of a greater problem with television programming in general.
“In my opinion, all the shows that people of color do have,” Johnson said, “it’s always something argumentative or something that sheds a bad light. We never get a show that explains and shows that we also do have love and affection toward one another.”