Former Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and its teams on Tuesday, alleging the league has not only engaged in discriminatory hiring practices against Black candidates for coaching and front office vacancies, but has also conducted sham interviews under the pretense of following the Rooney Rule.
The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, alleges the NFL and its teams to have violated Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866; the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination; the New York State Human Rights Law; and the New York City Human Rights Law.
Flores, listed as the plaintiff, claims to act on behalf of more than 40 members of the proposed class: “all Black head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators and quarterbacks coaches, as well as general managers and Black candidates for those positions.”
Flores, who was fired following the 2021 season despite leading Miami to back-to-back winning campaigns, claims in his suit that the NFL and its teams act like a “plantation” in which the 32 teams — none of whose owners is Black — profit from the labor of a league that is 70 percent Black. Flores’ complaint also claims the league refuses to adequately address “racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of Black head coaches, coordinators and general managers.”
Specifically, Flores alleges that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross asked him to “tank” the Dolphins during the 2019 season to improve the team’s draft position to secure the No. 1 overall choice (which ultimately went to the Bengals, who used their position to select quarterback Joe Burrow from LSU). Flores also alleged Ross offered him $100,000 for every loss that year.
“Then, when the Dolphins started winning games, due in no small part to Mr. Flores’ coaching, Mr. Flores was told by the team’s General Manager, Chris Grier, that ‘Steve’ was ‘mad’ that Mr. Flores’ success in winning games that year was ‘compromising (the team’s) draft position.'”
Flores’ lawsuit also alleges Ross asked him to violate league tampering rules following the 2019 season to recruit a ‘prominent quarterback’ — reportedly Tom Brady, who was set to enter free agency — to play for the Dolphins. Flores alleges that, after “he repeatedly refused to comply with these improper directives,” Ross invited him to lunch on a yacht where the unnamed quarterback “conveniently” arrived in the same marina. Flores “refused the meeting and left the yacht immediately.”
After the incident, the complaint says that “Flores was treated with disdain and held out as someone who was noncompliant and difficult to work with.”
Flores also alleged the Broncos and Giants of conducting “sham” interviews with him in 2019 and ’21, respectively.
Flores claimed then-Broncos general manager John Elway and team president/CEO Joe Ellis and others showed up an hour late to a 2019 interview “completely disheveled, and it was obvious that they had drinking (sic) heavily the night before. It was clear from the substance of the interview that Mr. Flores was interviewed only because of the Rooney Rule, and that the Broncos never had any intention to consider him as a legitimate candidate for the job.”
As part of his lawsuit, Flores included a purported screenshot of a text message with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who seemingly mistook Flores for Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Belichick — thinking he was speaking to Daboll — congratulated Flores for getting the job, three days before Flores was to interview with the Giants.
Here’s the real headline: Flores knows this because Bill Belichick mistakenly congratulated him, not Brian Daboll, three days before the interview. (images from the complaint) pic.twitter.com/sUWjXYWARn
— Ben Fischer (@BenFischerSBJ) February 1, 2022
Among the listed outcomes of the lawsuit:
- Increase the influence of Black individuals in hiring and termination decisions for general manager, head coach and offensive and defensive coordinator positions
- Increase the objectivity of hiring and termination decisions for general manager, head coach and offensive and defensive coordinator positions
- Increase the number of Black offensive and defensive coordinators
- Incentivize the hiring and retention of black general managers, head coaches and offensive and defensive coordinators through monetary, draft and/or other compensation such as additional salary cap space
- Complete transparency with respect to pay for all general managers, head coaches and offensive and defensive coordinators
Brian Flores statement
Flores has since released a statement following the filing of his lawsuit (via the Miami Herald):
“God has gifted me with a special talent to coach the game of football, but the need for change is bigger than my personal goals. In making the decision to file the class action complaint, I understand that I may be risking coaching the game I love. My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come.”
What NFL, Giants, other teams have said
The NFL, Dolphins, Giants and Broncos have all released the following statements after Flores’ lawsuit was filed on Tuesday.
NFL: “The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations. Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues in which our clubs and internal leadership team spend more time. We will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”
Dolphins: “We are aware of the lawsuit through the media reports that came out this afternoon. We vehemently deny any allegations of racial discrimination and are proud of the diversity and inclusion throughout our organization. The implication that we acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect. We will be withholding further comment on the lawsuit at this time.”
Broncos: (via Nicki Jhabvala of The Washington Post):
In a statement, the Denver Broncos say Brian Flores’s allegations against the team are “blatantly false.” pic.twitter.com/YMrMrkDGQa
— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) February 1, 2022
Giants: “We are pleased and confident with the process that resulted in the hiring of Brian Daboll. We interviewed an impressive and diverse group of candidates. The fact of the matter is, Brian Flores was in the conversation to be our head coach until the eleventh hour. Ultimately, we hired the individual we felt was most qualified to be our next head coach.”
Brian Flores career coaching record
Flores is 24-25 in three seasons in Miami, a record that is skewed after a 5-11 season in Flores’ first year in charge in 2019. He had winning campaigns in 2020 and ’21 (10-6 and 9-8, respectively), missing out on the NFL playoffs by one game in each season.
Prior to his stint with the Dolphins, Flores was a scout and assistant under Belichick with the Patriots from 2004-18.
What is the Rooney Rule?
The Rooney Rule is an NFL policy that mandates teams interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. It is so named after former Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who was also former chairman of the league’s diversity committee.
Said committee was formed in 2002 as a reaction to the firing of Black head coaches Tony Dungy and Dennis Green of the Buccaneers and Vikings, respectively; Dungy had only one losing season — his first — in six years with the Buccaneers, and had averaged 10 wins a season — making the playoffs each year — in his final three years in Tampa Bay.
Green, meanwhile, was fired after a 5-10 season in 2001 with the Vikings. It was his first losing season in 10 years in Minnesota, and followed three consecutive seasons that produced regular-season records of 15-1, 10-6 and 11-5, respectively.
The NFL fined the Lions $200,000 in 2003 for violating the Rooney Rule after several Black candidates withdrew from interviews because of the team’s perceived settling on hiring former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci. The rule has been further criticized as being ineffective as several Black coordinators — notably Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy — remain unable to secure head coaching positions.
Black coaches in the NFL
Currently, only one Black man is a head coach in the NFL (3 percent): Mike Tomlin, of the Steelers. Beyond that, the NFL has only four Black offensive coordinators (12 percent); 11 Black defensive coordinators (34 percent); eight special team coordinators (25 percent); and three Black quarterback coaches (9 percent). The league only employs Black six general managers (19 percent). The league hired 22 minority head coaches from 2003-19 before the Dolphins hired Flores (17 in a non-interim role).
There has been one Black head coaches hired since — David Culley of the Texans, in 2021. He was fired after one season.
While the timeline is not immediately clear, the NFL will have the opportunity to respond to the allegations and file motions for dismissal or arbitration, similar to how they have proceeded with former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden’s lawsuit. They plan to “vigorously defend against these claims.”
Flores’ may follow a different path, but legal processes will have to take place, as laid out by Sportico legal expert Michael McCann.
Evidence wouldn’t be presented for a while, if we ever see it. Flores has to get by a motion to dismiss. If he does, then he can make life very difficult for NFL and teams by demanding sworn testimony, emails, hiring notes etc. League would probably settle before we see anything. https://t.co/6SZDeeewlU
— Michael McCann (@McCannSportsLaw) February 1, 2022
(This story is updating).