By Dan Lust & Tarun Sharma
To get you caught up on the issues, we boiled down this lawsuit to two basic components – what’s happened so far and what’s happening next.
What’s Happened So Far
On Tuesday, former Miami Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL, and specifically the New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, and Denver Broncos, as well as the other 29 teams. Flores, a New Yorker who is the son of Honduran immigrants, alleges racial discrimination in hiring processes around the League. Flores most notably points to text messages between himself and New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. Belichick mistakenly texted Flores, his former Defensive Coordinator with the Patriots, when he meant to text Brian Daboll. Belichick congratulates Flores for securing the New York Giants’ Head Coaching position. However, Flores was not scheduled to interview with the Giants until later that week. Belichick then clarifies that he made a mistake and that he meant to text Daboll his congratulations.
The timing of Belichick’s texts is important because it appears that the decision was already made as to who would be hired as the Giants’ next coach before Flores ever had a chance to interview for the role. That matters because the NFL has a hiring process known as the Rooney Rule. In 2003, the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule, which requires that NFL teams interview minority candidates for head coaching roles. Since then, the Rule has expanded to include assistant coaching and front office roles, as well. At the point that the Giants had interviewed Flores, the only minority candidate that they had interviewed was their own Defensive Coordinator. Flores is alleging that his experience with the Giants was a “sham interview” only conducted for the purpose of satisfying the Rooney Rule.
Flores also alleges that this is not the first sham interview that he has been the victim of. In 2019, before accepting the Dolphins’ Head Coaching job, Flores was invited to interview with the Denver Broncos. Flores alleges in the complaint that then-GM (and NFL HOF QB) John Elway, President/CEO Joe Ellis, and other members of the Broncos’ party showed up an hour late to the interview. Flores states that the Broncos’ contingent looked hungover, and that the substance of the interview reflected that he was never a serious candidate for the job. Shortly thereafter, Vic Fangio was hired as Denver’s Head Coach.
The complaint, filed by Flores on the same day that he interviewed with the New Orleans Saints for their Head Coaching vacancy, proceeds to outline the NFL’s failures when it comes to racial equality. He notably includes last year’s Jon Gruden email saga, the revelation that the NFL’s Concussion Settlement used race-norms (the idea that black players had lower baseline aptitude than white players) in determining whether former players would be compensated for cognitive impairment, and the paltry number of black coaches compared to the number of black players, as examples of the NFL’s ongoing issues with race.
Possibly the most stunning of the allegations that Flores makes in the complaint relate to the behavior of Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross. Flores alleges that Ross asked Flores to “tank” the 2019 season, and offered him $100,000 for every game that he lost. Following the 2019 season, Flores alleges that Ross began to pressure him into recruiting a prominent quarterback in violation of the League’s tampering rules. When Flores refused, he was treated with disdain as someone who was difficult to work with. There has been plenty of speculation as to who this prominent QB is, but signs point to this being either Tom Brady, who played in New England while Flores was with the organization, or Deshaun Watson, who Flores is reportedly close to.
In response, the NFL stated that it is “deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices” and “we will defend against these claims, which are without merit.” The latter is a canned line that is somewhat typical of any party that is being sued. Basically, you have to say that to have a chance to win. The Broncos issued a statement disputing Flores’ recollection of the 2019 interview, stating that the allegations are “blatantly false.” The Dolphins, battling on two fronts, released a statement saying they “vehemently deny any allegations of racial discrimination” and “the implication that we acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect.”
First things first, Flores alleges that there are as many as 40 possible litigants that can join his class, which he defines as “All Black Head Coach, Offensive and Defensive Coordinators and Quarterbacks Coaches, as well as General Managers, and Black candidates for those positions during the applicable statute of limitations period.” It will be up to a Federal District Court Judge in the Southern District of New York to certify this class. For this reason, there is language in the complaint that argues it is impractical and inefficient to join all of these parties to the lawsuit. Flores is seeking increased objectivity for hiring/firing decisions, creation of a training program for black coaches, incentives for hiring and retaining black coaches and front office personnel, and more transparency in the hiring process.
Second, the NFL will almost certainly seek to dismiss the suit, but our own Dan Wallach believes that this complaint has satisfied the requirements to survive such a motion.
Stay tuned to Conduct Detrimental to see whether this case makes it to discovery, a point at which juicy evidence could come to light and turn the entire League on its head.
This article was cross-published in Joe Pompliano's Huddle Up Newsletter. Dan Lust (@SportsLawLust) is a Sports Law attorney at Geragos & Geragos and Co-Host of the Conduct Detrimental Podcast. Tarun Sharma (@TKSharmaLaw) is a Third-Year Law Student at Minnesota Law and he is a frequent guest on the podcast in addition to publishing Conduct Detrimental’s weekly “Sports Law Review” Newsletter which you can subscribe to through our website.