Brian Flores v. The NFL
Image via: https://nypost.com/2022/01/10/dolphins-shockingly-fire-head-coach-brian-flores/
Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores dropped a bombshell on Wednesday when he filed a class action lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against the NFL. The entire 58-page complaint can be found here: https://www.wigdorlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Complaint-against-National-Football-League-et-al-Filed.pdf
Let’s break it down.
Brian Flores was a Patriots assistant coach under Bill Belichick from 2008-2018. He left New England to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2019. He was fired by the Miami Dolphins on January 10, 2022. Flores was widely considered a desirable candidate for many of the open NFL head coaching jobs this offseason.
The NFL adopted the Rooney Rule in 2003 after recommendations were made by the NFL Workplace Diversity Committee. The goal of the Rooney Rule is to encourage hiring best practices to foster and provide opportunity to diverse leadership throughout the NFL. The rule was originally aimed at head coaching positions but has since expanded to assistant coaching positions as well as front office positions. The Rooney Rule places requirements on NFL teams to interview minority candidates for available coaching and front office positions.
The complaint comes out firing, starting with a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
It then goes on to compare the NFL’s segregation to that of a plantation, stating the NFL has 70% black players but is underrepresented in leadership positions:
Throughout the complaint, Flores’ attorneys attempt to show the systematic failure of the NFL through the Rooney Rule to make any type of progress to cultivate a diverse league. Instead, they characterize the Rooney Rule as simply a convenient safeguard to fall back on when no progress is being made.
Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross Attempted to Bribe Flores into “Tanking"
The NFL world was shocked when the Dolphins decided to part ways with Brian Flores after three seasons. Despite missing the playoffs, the Dolphins ended the 2021 season strongly and Flores lead the Dolphins to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2003. His team seemed to love playing for him and Flores had orchestrated an impressive rebuild.
Then stories began to leak to the media that there was a rift in the Dolphins’ front office between Flores, management, and ownership. Several sources stated that Flores attempted to gain too much control over the franchise until Dolphins owner Stephen Ross put a stop to it by firing him.
The complaint addresses Flores’ firing, claiming that the writing was on the wall for Flores in Miami dating all the way back to the 2019 season. It wasn’t a power struggle that caused Flores to lose his job, it was insubordination and refusing to follow orders from the boss. Allegedly, in 2019 Flores was approached by owner Stephen Ross and offered $100,000 for every game the Dolphins lost that season. Ross wanted the Dolphins to “tank” for a better draft pick and when Flores refused, Ross took it personally. The goal, in Ross’ mind, was to lose as many games as possible to secure a high draft pick. The Dolphins went 5-11 that season.
If true, this is a death blow to Stephen Ross as owner of the Dolphins. The league would almost assuredly have grounds to remove Ross as owner. First and foremost, Ross would likely have committed a felony under Florida law. Title XLVI, Chapter 838.12(1) makes it illegal for bribery in athletic contests. Ross was attempting to bribe Flores to lose games by offering large monetary incentives.
With the rise in the legalization of sports gambling, the last thing the NFL needs is a scandal that could potentially expose a team attempting to lose games on purpose. The integrity of the game is something that needs to be upheld for the sports gambling model to run. Leagues have to tread very carefully now that regulated dollars are being won and lost on the end products of their contests.
There’s irony in the fact that a coach that was offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to lose games would then be fired a few seasons later for not winning enough. Flores feels he was never given a real shot in Miami.
NFL’s Ongoing Problems with Race
The complaint lists a lengthy history of the countless scandals the NFL has encountered that shined a spotlight on the league’s race relations. The complaint mentions Colin Kaepernick being blackballed from the league for racial injustice protests, the Jon Gruden email leaks in which the high-profile coach stated NFL Player Association Director DeMaurice Smith had “lips the size of Michelin tires”, and the settlement reached by the NFL in a concussion lawsuit in which they admitted to using race-norming tactics in testing for dementia. More on that settlement can be found here: https://www.conductdetrimental.com/post/the-hits-keep-coming-nfl-settles-in-race-norming-suit
The Failure of the Rooney Rule
The Rooney Rule was intended to create more leadership roles for diverse coaches and front office executives by requiring teams provide a “fair and legitimate” chance to thrive. The complaint attempts to showcase how this has not been the outcome since the rule’s adoption.
Currently there is only one Black head coach in the NFL. The complaint shows an array of headshots of all the NFL head coaches to illustrate this disparity.
This part of the complaint is the most jarring. While the Rooney Rule requires teams to interview diverse candidates, it doesn’t require any of them are hired. The complaint emphasizes that this just provides teams an incentive to conduct a token interview with diverse candidates when there is no true intention to engage in the hiring process. Flores alleges this sham interview process happened to him on two occasions.
In 2019, when Flores was eventually hired by the Dolphins, that same offseason he interviewed with the Denver Broncos for their vacant head coaching position. Flores claims that the interview was so unimportant to Denver’s General Manager John Elway that he showed up to the interview late and hungover. It didn’t matter to Elway that the interview went well, just that it happened. The true intent was to check the box that they interviewed a diverse candidate before they hired Vic Fangio.
The piece of evidence that immediately sent a shockwave around the NFL involved text messages from Flores’ former boss and mentor, Bill Belichick. After he was fired from the Dolphins just a few weeks ago, Flores immediately began to seek another head coaching job in the NFL. One of the franchises with a job opening was the New York Giants.
On January 24, 2022, Flores reached out to New York Giants GM Joe Schoen to schedule an interview for the vacant head coaching position. The interview was scheduled for later that week, Thursday January 27, 2022. But later that day on the 24th Flores received a text message from his former boss indicating the vacant job may have already been decided on:
When you take a step back and think about these text messages, you can start to paint a clear picture. Consistent with these texts, the Giants eventually hired Brian Daboll as head coach, not Brian Flores. Brian Daboll was previously with the Buffalo Bills as their offensive coordinator.
Belichick, in a move consistent with his age, screwed up somewhere in the iPhone text message process. There are likely two options:
Belichick received information that Brian Daboll was going to be hired by the Giants, misread the information as Brian Flores, sent off a text to congratulate his old friend Flores, only to then realize his mistake.
Belichick received information that Brian Daboll was going to be hired, meant to text congratulations to Daboll, mistakenly texted Brian Flores thinking it was Daboll, only to then realize his mistake.
Ultimately, the timeline of the mishap doesn’t matter. What matters is Belichick revealed to Flores that the job was going to Daboll three days before Flores was set to interview. Flores went through the interview process with the Giants knowing he didn’t have a chance, further illustrating, according to his attorneys, that NFL teams are only interviewing candidates such as Flores as a formality, with no true intention of hiring.
Obviously, this is a mess for the NFL. The league that is no stranger to controversy suddenly finds themselves wrapped up in another. The league will have to investigate the allegations made by Flores on top of defending themselves from his lawsuit. If we have learned anything from the NFL in the past, it’s that they are anything but forthcoming with their findings from internal investigations.
The NFL released a statement in light of the allegations:
Flores doesn’t seem concerned with letting the NFL off easy. The allegations are damaging, but does he have enough of a legal basis to move forward? More to come.
Matt Netti is a 2021 graduate from Northeastern University School of Law. He currently works as an attorney fellow at the Office of the General Counsel for Northeastern University. You can follow him on twitter and instagram @MattNettiMN and find him on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-netti-ba5787a3/. You can find all his work at www.mattnetti.com