Rost: What to know about ex-Dolphins coach Brian Flores lawsuit against NFL

Feb 2, 2022, 10:50 AM | Updated: 10:57 am

Brian Flores...

Then-Dolphins head coach Brian Flores talks to Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross on Nov. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

I’m going to start this article by doing something I normally wouldn’t, which is to encourage you to read something else: the 58-page lawsuit filed Tuesday by ex-Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. It’s worth your time (and in hindsight, deepest apologies to our editor for that first line).

If you don’t have time, though, you’ve come to the right place, because I’ll tell you what Flores’ bombshell of a lawsuit alleges against the league at large and against three teams in particular – the Denver Broncos, the New York Giants, and the Miami Dolphins – and what Flores would like to see the league do.

I started by encouraging you to read through the class action complaint for a key reason, which is this: comparing your job to that of an NFL player or coach is, with few exceptions, a fruitless endeavor. That’s in part because few jobs require you to launch yourself at a 300-pound colleague or chase down a peer who can cover 50 yards in a few seconds, much less do it in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans and millions of viewers. But it’s also because there’s important historical context included in that lawsuit about a very powerful, and sometimes very weird, organization that has grown to dominate the majority of televisions in the U.S. and strengthen its hold on our collective attention (and hopes). And so, if you find yourself reading about Flores’ lawsuit and thinking, “I wish I could sue if I didn’t get a job,” know that neither these allegations nor the NFL landscape is so simple.

So, here’s what you need to know.

Flores accuses Dolphins owner of incentivizing losses, encouraging tampering

With so much attention paid, rightfully so, to Flores’ allegations of discriminatory hiring practices, the lawsuit’s allegations against Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross have become a secondary story. But for the sake of setting up a timeline, we’ll start here.

Flores’ firing in January came as a surprise. He oversaw a midseason turnaround for the Dolphins, a team that won eight of its final nine contests and finished with its first consecutive winning seasons since 2002 and 2003. But according to Flores, the relationship between coach and team owner had started to sour as early as 2019, Flores’ first season. During that season, Flores claims Ross encouraged him to tank to improve the team’s draft stock and even offered Flores $100,000 for every loss. The Dolphins finished 5-11 and didn’t end up with the first overall pick (that one went to Cincinnati).

Flores also alleges that Ross encouraged Flores to help recruit a prominent quarterback, unnamed in the lawsuit. Flores felt that effort would violate the league’s tampering rules. (A writer’s note here: the league is so strict about its anti-tampering policy that there’s a section that warns teams that they assume risk even by choosing to socialize with players under another club’s control.) Flores claims he refused to aid Ross in his efforts to recruit this player and felt that he afterwards gained a reputation as someone who was difficult to work with.

A sham interview with the Giants

The most prominent part of the lawsuit starts with someone who isn’t involved with any of these teams: Bill Belichick.

On Monday, Jan. 24, Flores received a text message from the Patriots’ head coach congratulating him on landing the head coaching job with the New York Giants. The problem? Flores hadn’t had his interview with the Giants yet. There had been conversations between both parties over Zoom and the Giants made their interest known, but Flores’ in-person interview was to be held on Thursday, Jan. 27. Belichick admits to misinterpreting a text and says he intended to congratulate ex-Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who was named Giants head coach last week.

Both men have now come to a realization: Belichick has realized he texted the wrong Brian, and Flores has realized that the Giants had made up their mind about their next head coach – to the extent that a third party was aware of their intent to hire Daboll – and he believes his scheduled interview was only a formality for the Giants to satisfy the league’s Rooney Rule.

As for the third team listed in the suit: Flores alleges this wasn’t the first time he felt he was being used to satisfy the rule in a bad faith interview, detailing a 2019 interview with the Denver Broncos.

What is the Rooney Rule?

The Rooney Rule was introduced in the 2003 season by former Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who oversaw the league’s diversity committee. It was spurred by criticism following the firings of Black head coaches Tony Dungy (Buccaneers) and Dennis Green (Vikings) in 2001, even though the former turned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into a winning franchise and constructed much of what would become a Super Bowl-winning team in 2002.

The first iteration of the Rooney rule required that at least one minority candidate be interviewed for a head coaching vacancy. In 2007, that rule was expanded to include general manager vacancies, and by 2020, the rule was expanded further to require that two minority candidates be interviewed, one of those interviews in-person, and that this be protocol for several front office and coordinator positions.

In a vacuum, a business might not need this rule. But the league is not operating in a vacuum; it is a reflection of society at large, and society at large still struggles with racism. Those roots go deep in the NFL, where the league didn’t sign any Black players from the 1930s through much of the 40s, and where former Washington football team owner George Preston Marshall refused to integrate his team. And prejudice didn’t stop when the league modernized. It’s just become more insidious because so many aspects of discrimination have bled into more abstract beliefs about who people are and what they’re capable of, and those beliefs can be harmful (intentionally or unintentionally) when held by people in positions of power.

Flores’ filing highlights some of the most common examples, from the lack of Black players initially encouraged to pursue quarterbacking to the lack of Black coaches represented in offensive coordinator roles, to “race norming” being part of concussion settlements. The thought behind encouraging predominately white GMs and entirely white majority owners to interview people of color for influential roles isn’t just to deter the obvious racist policies of the league’s past, but to challenge less obvious prejudice and unconscious bias.

What solution does this lawsuit call for?

Obviously, for discriminatory hiring practices (including those bad faith interviews) to stop. But Flores is also seeking some non-monetary relief, like:

• Increasing the influence of Black individuals in hiring and firing practices for high-power roles;

• allowing Black players and coaches to participate in the interview process;

• requiring teams to write their reasoning for hiring and firing decisions;

• incentivizing the hiring of Black general managers, coaches and coordinators;

• and having transparency in regard to pay for general managers, head coaches, and coordinators.

What is the NFL saying?

The league, and the teams listed in the lawsuit, issued statements Tuesday:

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