Brian Flores, the recently terminated coach of the Miami Dolphins, filed a class action civil complaint Tuesday that alleges the NFL and its teams (the New York Giants, the Dolphins and the Denver Broncos are specifically listed as defendants) remain “rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention Black head coaches, coordinators and general managers.”
Here’s what you need to know about Flores’ case, which has the potential to force significant change as it makes its way toward a requested jury trial in the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York.
The NFL is accused of being managed “much like a plantation”
The complaint asserts: “In certain critical ways, the NFL is racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation. Its 32 owners — none of whom are Black — profit substantially from the labor of NFL players, 70% of whom are Black. The owners watch the games from atop NFL stadiums in their luxury boxes, while their majority-black workforce put their bodies on the line every Sunday, taking vicious hits and suffering debilitating injuries to their bodies and their brains while the NFL and its owners reap billions of dollars.”
Only one current NFL coach is Black, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin. Only four of 32 teams employ a Black offensive coordinator, while 11 of 32 employ a Black defensive coordinator. Only six of 32 general managers are Black.
The Rooney Rule was passed two decades ago, requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate when hiring a coach. That requirement is now two, with at least one being in-person.
“In the 20 years since the Rooney Rule was passed, only 15 head coaching positions have been filled by Black candidates,” the complaint says. “During that time, there have bene approximately 129 head coaching vacancies. Thus only 11% of head coach positions have been filled by Black candidates — in a league where 70% of players are Black.”
The complaint estimates that the class of Black coaches, coordinators, quarterback coaches and general managers who have been aggrieved in a similar fashion to Flores would have at least 40 members.
Legendary Patriots coach Bill Belichick unknowingly provided key evidence
The Giants never have had a Black coach, but Flores, a Brooklyn native, was hopeful they were about to change that by choosing to bring him home. The Giants had scheduled an interview with him Jan. 27.
But the complaint alleges that the Giants already had made their choice — Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll — days before Flores’ interview, citing text messages that Belichick sent Flores, his former assistant with the Patriots.
It appears Belichick got his Brians confused and sent a text to Flores that was intended for Daboll, also a former Patriots assistant.
“Sounds like you have landed — congrats!!” Belichick said.
“Did you hear something I didn’t hear?” Flores said.
“Giants?!?!?!” Belichick said.
“I interview on Thursday. … I think I have a shot at it,” Flores said.
“Got it — I hear from Buffalo & NYG that you are their guy. Hope it works out if you want it to!” Belichick said.
“Coach, are you talking to Brian Flores or Brian Daboll. Just making sure,” Flores said.
“Sorry — I f—- this up. I double checked & I misread the text. I think they are naming Daboll. I’m sorry about that. BB”
Flores still attended a dinner with new Giants general manager Joe Schoen on Jan. 26 and went through his interview with the team Jan. 27.
“Mr. Flores had to give an extensive interview for a job that he already knew he would not get — an interview that was held for no reason other than for the Giants to demonstrate falsely to the league commissioner Roger Goodell and the public at large that it was in compliance with the Rooney Rule,” the complaint says. “The Giants would likely have gotten away with this most insidious form of discrimination if [Belichick] had not mistakenly disclosed it to Mr. Flores.”
Flores accuses Dolphins owner Stephen Ross of offering direct payments for him to lose
Flores was fired in January after leading the Dolphins to their first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003 because of “poor collaboration” — language that is interesting considering Flores’ allegation about the 2019 season, his first with the team.
“Indeed, during the 2019 season, Miami’s owner, Stephen Ross, told Mr. Flores that he would pay him $100,000 for every loss,” the complaint alleges.
Flores refused to “tank” for the first pick in the draft, “and the team’s general manager, Chris Grier, told Mr. Flores that ‘Steve’ was ‘mad’ that Mr. Flores’ success in winning games that year was ‘compromising [the team’s] draft position.’ ”
After that season, the complaint also alleges, Ross wanted Flores to “recruit a prominent quarterback in violation of League tampering rules.” Ross is accused of inviting Flores to his yacht for lunch and then mentioning the quarterback would be joining them at the marina. Flores is said to have left the yacht “immediately.”
“From that point forward, Mr. Flores was ostracized and ultimately he was fired,” the complaint says. “He was subsequently defamed throughout the media and the League as he was labeled by the Dolphins brass as someone who was difficult to work with. This is reflective of an all too familiar ‘angry black man’ stigma that is often casted upon Black men who are strong in their morals and convictions while white men are coined as passionate for those very same attributes.”
The Broncos in 2019 also did not take an interview with Flores seriously
“Incredibly, [the Giants were] not Mr. Flores’ first sham interview that was held only in an effort to comply with the Rooney Rule,” the complaint alleges. “Indeed, in 2019 Mr. Flores was scheduled to interview with the Denver Broncos. However, the Broncos’ then-general manager, John Elway, President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Ellis and others, showed up an hour late to the interview. They looked completely disheveled, and it was obvious that they had [been] drinking heavily the night before. … Shortly thereafter, Vic Fangio, a white man, was hired to be the head coach of the Broncos.”
The plaintiffs want to change the NFL’s hiring practices and monetary damages
The relief measures sought include:
“Ensure diversity of ownership by creating and funding a committee dedicated to sourcing Black investors to take majority ownership stakes in NFL teams.”
“Ensure diversity of decision-making by permitting select Black players and coaches to participate in the interviewing process…”
“Require NFL teams to reduce to writing the rationale for hiring and termination decisions, including a full examination of the basis for any subjective influences (e.g., trust, personality, interview performance, etc.); require NFL teams to consider side-by-side comparisons of objective criteria, such as past performance, experience and objective qualifications.”
“Incentivize the hiring and retention … through monetary, draft and/or other compensation such as additional salary cap space.”
The complaint identified other Black coaches who could join the class
The list includes: former Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell, former Arizona Cardinals coach Steve Wilks, recently terminated Houston Texans coach David Culley, former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard, Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach Teryl Austin and Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
The complaint calls out the NFL’s response to the death of George Floyd and the “Black Lives Matter” movement
“In fact,” the complaint says, “the racial discrimination has only been made worse by the NFL’s disingenuous commitment to social equity.”
J. Brady McCollough is a sports enterprise reporter for the Los Angeles Times, focusing on national college football and basketball topics. Before joining the Times in May 2018, he was a projects reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a 2017 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.