Last week the NFL concluded its investigation into the Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins were accused of tampering and attempting to intentionally lose games (tanking) by former head coach Brian Flores. These accusations surfaced as Flores sued for race discrimination after he was fired as Dolphins head coach in January. A write-up on the lawsuit can be found here.
The NFL spent four months investigating the Dolphins and owner Stephen Ross based on the allegations in Flores’ complaint. Did the NFL’s investigation vindicate Flores? Well, kinda.
The tanking portion of the NFL’s announcement can be read below:
Point #2 alludes to what Flores accused. The NFL admits that Flores was approached by owner Stephen Ross to prioritize their 2020 draft position over their 2019 record. What’s the only way to prioritize your 2020 draft position?
By losing all your games. Essentially, Flores was told by his boss that it would be in the team’s best interest to lose games.
In a quintessential public relations move, point #3 attempts to diminish some of the significance. By analyzing the “wording, timing, and context” of Ross’ remarks, the NFL claims that Ross wasn’t serious about this offer to Flores. The good ol’ “I’ll pay you $100,000 for every game that you lose” joke – a classic. That’s just Ross’ sense of humor and shame on you for taking it any other way, Brian Flores.
Just as Jordan Belfort was in no way attempting to bribe a federal agent aboard his yacht, Stephen Ross was only kidding when soliciting that Flores secure the #1 pick for the Miami Dolphins:
All jokes aside, the NFL fined Ross $1.5 million and suspended him from all team-sanctioned activities until October 17, 2022. Additionally, the Dolphins were docked two future draft picks for their purported tanking and tampering. Despite not believing in the sincerity of the Dolphins' tanking attempts, the NFL still handed down a sizable punishment. Goodell stated, “Even if made in jest and not intended to be taken seriously, comments suggesting that draft position is more important than winning can be misunderstood and carry with them an unnecessary potential risk to the integrity of the game.”
The NFL has recently shown they value this nebulous “integrity of the game” phrase very highly. They suspended Calvin Ridley for the entire 2022 NFL season for gambling on NFL games that they felt compromised the integrity of the game.
Ross interpreted the NFL’s announcement as a win and decided to go on a public victory lap. “The independent investigation cleared our organization on any issues related to tanking and all of Brian Flores' other allegations,” Ross said. “As I have said all along, these allegations were false, malicious, and defamatory, and this issue is now put to rest. He further stated, “However, I will accept the outcome because the most important thing is that there be no distractions for our team as we begin an exciting and winning season. I will not allow anything to get in the way of that.”
It's almost as if Ross read a completely different statement from the rest of the world. The NFL did not characterize Flores’ allegations as false, malicious, or defamatory. The Dolphins were not cleared. Instead, the NFL concluded that Flores’ tanking allegations occurred, but that they shouldn’t have been acted upon because they were made in jest.
It’s important to note the timing of this all as Flores’ discrimination suit still rages on. To properly support his defense in the Flores suit, Ross must make public statements that fly in the face of what the NFL concluded. Meanwhile, Flores will use the same NFL findings to his advantage. The fact of the matter is the NFL punished Ross and the Dolphins for actions taken place during the 2019 season. Flores will attempt to use this to build his own case.
The public tug-of-war between Ross and Flores attempting to spin this information has already started. Flores’ attorney released the following statement:
The Dolphins and owner Stephen Ross were given a notable penalty, $1.5 million and two draft picks, by the NFL. However, Flores will look to use the information gleaned by the NFL’s investigation to hit them even harder in his class action.
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 athttps://www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-netti/. You can find all his work at www.mattnetti.com
 Mike Florio, Stephen Ross issues curious, flawed statement regarding Tuesday’s findings, Pro Football Talk (Aug. 2, 2022) https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2022/08/02/stephen-ross-issues-curious-flawed-statement-regarding-tuesdays-findings/.