Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is suing the NFL and three teams for what he alleges is discrimination as part of the interview and hiring process. He’s also accusing Stephen Ross, owner of the Dolphins, for breaking NFL tampering rules and even incentivizing him to lose games.
The New York Giants and Denver Broncos, two franchises that had interviewed Flores in the past, were named in the lawsuit as well as the Dolphins. While none of the organizations or people mentioned in the lawsuit look great, the accusations against Ross would be particularly damning if proven true.
That’s likely why the owner came out with a strongly-worded statement in response to the lawsuit.
Brian Flores accused the NFL of being ‘rife with racism’
The lawsuit was filed on February 1st, the first day of Black History Month, and that wasn’t an accident.
In the preliminary statement, the lawsuit stated that “While racial barriers have been eroded in many areas, Defendant the National Football League (“NFL” or the “League”) lives in a time of the past. As described throughout this Class Action Complaint, the NFL remains rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of Black Head Coaches, Coordinators and General Managers. Over the years, the NFL and its 32-member organizations (the “Teams”) have been given every chance to do the right thing. Rules have been implemented, promises made—but nothing has changed. In fact, the racial discrimination has only been made worse by the NFL’s disingenuous commitment to social equity.”
Flores and his team included a plethora of troubling statistics right near the top of the lawsuit. That included the fact that only one of the NFL’s 32 teams currently employs a black head coach. That would be Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The lawsuit also took aim at The Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview two minority head coaching candidates before making a hire. At least one of those interviews must be done in person. The rule applies for front office and assistant coaching positions as well, though only one minority candidate interview is “required.”
“However, well intentioned or not, what is clear is that the Rooney Rule is not working,” Flores’ lawsuit read. “It is not working because the numbers of Black Head Coaches, Coordinators and Quarterback Coaches are not even close to being reflective of the number of Black athletes on the field.”
Flores called out the Broncos and Giants in connection to this point. He alleged that the Giants had already determined to hire Brain Daboll before they even interviewed with him.
“Mr. Flores was deceptively led to believe he actually had a chance at this job,” the lawsuit read.
The Broncos were said to have conducted a “sham” interview with Flores in 2019. Flores alleged that John Elway, among others in the Denver front office, showed up an hour late to the job interview after a night of heavy drinking.
“It was clear from the substance of the interview that Mr. Flores was interviewed only because of the Rooney Rule,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit specifically calls out Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross
The strongest wording and allegations in the lawsuit were levied against Ross and the Dolphins, who employed Flores as their head coach from 2019 to 2021.
He was let go after the 2021 season, a campaign that saw him go 9-8 and have the Dolphins in the hunt for the playoffs. It was his second-straight winning season and marked Miami’s first back-to-back winning season since 2003.
“The purported basis for his termination was alleged poor collaboration. In reality, the writing had been on the wall since Mr. Flores’ first season as Head Coach of the Dolphins, when he refused his owner’s directive to “tank” for the first pick in the draft,” the lawsuit states.
Flores alleged that Ross offered him $100,000 for every game the Dolphins lost in the 2019 season. Flores led the Dolphins to five wins that year, and Ross was allegedly mad that Flores was “compromising [the team’s] draft position.”
The Dolphins picked fifth in the 2020 NFL Draft, selecting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Flores also alleged that Ross repeatedly pressured him to break the NFL’s tampering rules as it related to Ross trying to recruit a “prominent quarterback” to come to Miami. Ross allegedly went as far as to invite Flores to lunch on his yacht in an apparent “set up” to meet with this quarterback. According to the lawsuit, Flores left the marina immediately and was “treated with disdain and held out as someone who was noncompliant and difficult to work with” after the incident.
Ross vehemently denies the allegations against him
The allegations against Ross are serious for a multitude of reasons. He, of course, is being alleged to have broken NFL rules, but brazenly “tanking” and offering a bounty to do it, if valid, would have massive implications for the league.
From a competition standpoint, it would be devastating. In a sense, it would make the NFL product seem no more scripted than the WWE. The NFL has also recently gone all-in with gambling and betting, which is a billion-dollar industry. If it’s true that an NFL owner is trying to tip the scales in regards to wins and losses, one could only imagine all the implications that would have in regards to the betting industry. Moreover, if Ross is doing it, what other NFL owners are trying to meddle in the win-loss column?
It would make sense, then, that Ross would come out and vehemently deny the allegations against him, which he did via Cameron Wolfe of the NFL Network.
“With regards to the allegations being made by Brian Flores, I am a man of honor and integrity and cannot let them stand without responding. I take great personal exception to these malicious attacks, and the truth must be known,” Ross said. “His allegations are false, malicious and defamatory. We understand there are media stating that the NFL intends to investigate his claims, and we will cooperate fully. I welcome that investigation and I am eager to defend my personal integrity, and the integrity and values of the entire Miami Dolphins organization, from these baseless, unfair and disparaging claims.”
It will be interesting to see where this lawsuit goes and what, if anything, it uncovers. Ross says he’ll cooperate, but what else would he say in this position?
Flores, for his part, is trying to both inspire and force change. It’s hard to change the course of a big ship like the NFL, but to his credit, Flores is taking the wheel, much to his own detriment, and giving it a spin.