On Tuesday (February 1st), former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and all 32 teams. In the suit, Flores alleged racial discrimination in hiring processes across the league, and specifically named the following teams — the Dolphins, the New York Giants, and the Denver Broncos — that are at the center of the suit.
“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,” Flores said in a statement via the firm representing him, Wigdor Law LLP. “In making the decision to file the class action complaint today, I understand that I may be risking coaching the game that I love and that has done so much for my family and me. 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.”
While the Giants and Broncos share a similar reason for why they’re included in the suit, the Dolphins are different. So, let’s begin with why the Dolphins are named in Flores’ suit before getting to the other teams and addressing how this suit could affect the NFL in a big way.
During his time with the Dolphins, Flores alleged that team owner Stephen Ross offered him $100,000 for each of the team’s losses in 2019, in hopes of improving the Dolphins’ draft position the following year. In the suit, Flores said that Dolphins general manager Chris Grier had told him Ross was “mad” that the team’s winnings late in the season was “compromising [the team’s] draft position,” according to a report by ESPN. Flores also alleged that Ross pressured him into recruiting a “prominent quarterback” at the end of the 2019 season. However, he refused to do that because it would’ve violated the NFL’s tampering rules.
For both of these teams, Flores has alleged that they conducted “sham” interviews with him only to comply with the league’s Rooney Rule. The rule — which requires teams to interview minority candidates for positions they have available — was updated last year. It now requires “every team to interview at least two external minority candidates for open head coaching positions and at least one external minority candidate for a coordinator job,” according to the NFL’s Football Operations website. Flores had interviewed with the Giants for their head-coach position, but the team ended up hiring former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll instead.
Flores’ issue with the Giants is that it seems that team had already chosen Daboll for the job before even interviewing Flores, based on a text exchange he had with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. The same day his interview for the role was finalized, he allegedly received some texts from Belichick, with the Patriots coach telling Flores that he heard from “Buffalo and NYG that you are their guy.”
Well, turns out that Belichick had meant to send those messages to Daboll, apologizing for the mistake after Flores asked him to clarify whether the texts were meant for him or Daboll.
As for the Broncos, Flores said that a similar incident took place when he interviewed for the team’s head-coaching position in 2019, claiming that then-general manager John Elway (and others) arrived to the interview late and hungover, alleging they had been “drinking heavily the night before.”
Flores’ lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from the NFL but what the suit also hopes to accomplish is to “shine a light on the racial injustices that take place inside the NFL,” according to Wigdor Law LLP. Among some of the issues Flores said he wants addressed include everything from an increase influence of Black individuals in hiring to incentivize hiring/retention of Black general managers, head coaches, and coordinators. Although the NFL (as well as the teams specifically mentioned in Flores’ suit) have dismissed Flores’ claims, that doesn’t mean his lawsuit could usher in a very necessary change in the NFL.
When it comes to Black coaches, the league is failing in a noticeable way. As the Ringer pointed out, there is currently only one Black head coach in the NFL (the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin) and 24 white coaches. An imbalance also exists among the league’s assistant coaches, with 34.5 percent of them Black while 57.7 percent of them white.
Flores’ lawsuit could force the NFL to confront issues that are deep-rooted, as well as create transparency in its hiring process. As the Athletic reported, Flores’ lawsuit was filed in federal court against the NFL, the Dolphins, the Giants, and the Broncos, with the suit alleging that they all violated federal, state, and city discrimination laws. Per the Athletic:
Under federal law, Flores alleges that the defendants violated Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was enacted by Congress to ensure U.S. citizenship to formerly enslaved people and protect their ability to enforce contracts. Today, Section 1981 makes it illegal for a non-government party, like the NFL and its teams, to intentionally discriminate against an individual in making and enforcing a contract.
Flores indicated that he will file a claim under a second federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against employees who are members of protected classes. Race is a protected class under the law. Title VII is broader in its protections than Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act, as plaintiffs can bring cases alleging both intentional employment discrimination and disparate impact discrimination.
With at least two other coaches possibly becoming a part of Flores’ class-action lawsuit, it’s possible that this suit could shake up the league in a big way, a successor to the work Colin Kaepernick did when he took the NFL to court almost five years ago.
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