“As this Class Action Complaint is filed on the first day of Black History Month, we honor the brave leaders that fought so hard to help break down racial barriers of injustice.”
This is the first sentence of a lawsuit filed by former Miami Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores against the NFL, New York Giants, Denver Broncos, and Miami Dolphins. In this lawsuit, Flores alleges racial discrimination in his interviews with both the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants for their vacant head coach positions, as well as in his firing by the Miami Dolphins, which occurred after he led the franchise in back-to-back winning seasons.
Flores, who was hired by the Miami Dolphins in 2019, breathed new life into a franchise that had not seen a winning season since 2016, leading the Dolphins to a 10–6 record in 2020.
Flores alleges that throughout his time in Miami, he continually clashed with the Dolphins’ owner, Stephen Ross, over the state of the team. Flores’ suit states that Ross was upset with the team’s five wins at the end of the 2019 season, as the owner wanted the team to “tank” — intentionally lose — in an effort to get the first pick in the 2020 NFL draft. Flores further alleges that Ross offered him an additional 100,000 USD for every loss the Dolphins incurred in 2019.
Over the course of the next two seasons, the coach felt ostracized, in large part because of his decision to not let the team tank. The suit goes on to state that following Flores’ firing at the end of the 2021 season, the Dolphins’ front office went on to smear him throughout the NFL and sports media as someone who is bad-tempered and uncooperative, pushing the “angry Black man” narrative that is too often plastered on Black men who are confident and steadfast in their beliefs.
The allegations of racial discrimination don’t stop with the Dolphins — Flores believes he faced similar situations in “sham” interviews with the Denver Broncos and New York Giants. He believes that his candidacy was only ever an effort for these teams to satisfy the Rooney Rule.
The Rooney Rule — named after Pittsburgh Steelers’ owner, Daniel Rooney, for his extensive history of advocacy on behalf of diversity hiring in the NFL — stipulates that any team with a head coach or front office vacancy must interview at least one minority candidate for the job. While this was a noble undertaking by the NFL, its results have been less than satisfactory. In a league in which approximately 70 per cent of the players are Black, there are currently only two Black head coaches following the firing of Flores — Lovie Smith and Mike Tomlin.
In his 2019 interview for the Broncos’ head coach position, Flores alleges that the Broncos’ then-general manager and CEO arrived an hour late, “completely disheveled,” and that it was “obvious that they had drinking [sic] heavily the night before.” By the time the interview ended, Flores believed that he was never a serious contender for the position and was only interviewed to fulfill the Rooney Rule requirement.
Former Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio was hired for the job instead. Fangio was fired on January 27, 2022, but the Broncos have since hired former Green Bay Packers Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as their new head coach. Since both are white men, neither represent the minority for whom the Rooney Rule was ratified.
Prior to his interview with the Giants, Flores had a text exchange with legendary New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. According to Belichick, the Giants had already decided to hire Buffalo Bills Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll before Flores’ interview with the team. Flores sat through a dinner with the Giants’ new general manager, Joe Schoen, and participated in a comprehensive interview with the team. All of this happened at a point when, Flores alleges, the team had already decided on hiring Daboll as their new head coach, and were only interviewing Flores to abide by the Rooney Rule.
The Giants dispute this claim. Team spokesman Pat Hanlon stated that the franchise was “confident with the process that resulted in the hiring of Brian Daboll,” and that “Flores was in the conversation to be our Head Coach until the eleventh hour.”
Flores claims that more than 40 coaches who have experienced similar racial discrimination could join his suit. He went so far as to name several coaches who were fired prematurely, or, despite their success, had not yet been given an opportunity to be a head coach. The list includes Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy, former Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions Head Coach Jim Caldwell, and former Houston Texans Head Coach David Culley, among others.
Several prominent civil rights organizations highlighted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have reached out to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss substantive and tangible changes that could be made to the Rooney Rule to make it more effective.
“It’s simply not enough for the League to declare its good intentions,” said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. “This is a long-standing crisis that must be confronted with diligence and rigor.”
Brad Sohn, a lawyer who has previously represented a great many NFL players, views the lawsuit as “next to impossible to succeed,” and believes that Flores is “[putting] his career in jeopardy.” While Flores loves the game of football, he believes that his undertaking is bigger than him and accepts the potential consequences of his actions.
In a statement released by Flores’ law firm, he said, “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.”