Ex-Miami Dolphins head coach sues NFL, three teams for racist hiring practices

News analysis

Finally, someone sues the NFL for racism

Throwing games for money? What is this, the 1919 World Series? That accusation is only one part of the lawsuit alleging racism by former Miami Dolphins Coach Brian Flores. The lawsuit was filed on Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month and two weeks before America’s High Mass—the Super Bowl—and the Jay Z-orchestrated hip hop half-time show.

After two winning seasons, Flores was fired last month with two years still left on his contract. His firing surprised many sports pundits.

The Dolphins contend that he was fired due to “organizational” changes, but Flores claims in his lawsuit that he was fired in part because he wouldn’t “tank” games to improve the team’s draft picks.

Flores sued the NFL and three teams, alleging racist hiring practices and system: “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,” read a portion of the claim.

The very first lines of the explosive official complaint filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York feature a text from Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick:

“Sorry – I f**ked this up.  I double checked and misread the text.  I think they are naming Brian Daboll.  I’m sorry about that.  BB.”

  • Bill Belichick informing Plaintiff Brian Flores, three days before his interview with the New York Giants that Brian Daboll had already been selected for the job.

Hiding behind the Rooney Rule

In a text message to Flores, Belichick, Flores’s boss for 15 years, accidentally let on that the New York Giants had already decided on hiring Brian Daboll, well before Flores’ scheduled meeting with the Giants for the head coach position.

Coach Belichick got his Brians mixed up, apparently, when he sent a congratulatory text to Flores. Brian Daboll did, indeed, get hired as the Giants’ new head coach. The Giants, along with the Dolphins and Denver Broncos were named in the lawsuit.

Launched in 2003, the Rooney Rule is an NFL policy requiring every team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one or more diverse candidates, according to the league’s website. It’s worth noting there were three Black coaches in the NFL when the Rooney Rule was introduced—today there is only one: Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Flores’ suit alleges that the Giants were simply going through the motions and appearing to consider him as a candidate for the coaching position—in compliance with the Rooney Rule—but had no intention of ever hiring him.

Are Flores’ charges of racial discrimination true? It may help to remember that guy Colin Kaepernick. What happened to him? He’s not playing the game because he was not playing the game. Kaepernick has been effectively blackballed from the league for peacefully protesting racial injustice.

When Flores was asked if he feared that his career would be similarly sidelined, in an appearance on MSNBC’s “All in With Chris Hayes,” Flores said, “At the end of the day, this isn’t about me. This is about Black and minority coaches, Black and minority leaders who don’t get the opportunity to showcase their skills, their leadership, their acumen, their intelligence, their abilities in whatever field it is.”

Flores also said he was shocked, disappointed, and humiliated when he discovered that Belichick’s text was not intended to be sent to him. “Initially, I thought he was talking to me. But [when] I found out that it wasn’t meant for me, I was certainly upset. I had a lot of different emotions about the hiring process and whether or not it was fair and if I was going to have a real opportunity—didn’t sound like that, it didn’t feel like that,” he said.

He added, “It confirmed what we thought was happening behind closed doors and it’s not just in football.”

Flores said the best outcome would be for his lawsuit to cause “real conversations, real change, and real opportunities” for qualified Black applicants in the NFL and elsewhere.

Flores’ lawsuit was filed as a class action. That means others can join the party if they, too, feel they were impacted by the NFL’s alleged racism.

Among the highlights of the 58-page complaint filed in federal court:

“9. Perhaps worst of all, in connection with its distribution of settlement monies to

retirees who suffer from traumatic brain injury, the NFL insisted on applying so-called “racenorms.” Put simply, the NFL took the position that white people simply have better baseline cognitive function than Black people. This is the very definition of racism—the assumption that someone is not as smart as another person because of the color of his or her skin. It also perhaps explains why the NFL and its Teams are so loath to hire Black Head Coaches, Coordinators and General Managers (“GMs”), just as for years the League discriminated against Black quarterbacks.”

13. The Rooney Rule is also not working because management is not doing the interviews in good-faith, and it, therefore, creates a stigma that interviews of Black candidates are only being done to comply with the Rooney Rule rather than in recognition of the talents that the Black candidates possess.

14. In January 2022, Mr. Flores, who spent three years as the Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins, was fired after leading the team to its first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003.

The purported basis for his termination was alleged poor collaboration. During the 2019 season, Miami’s owner, Stephen Ross, told Mr. Flores that he would pay him $100,000 for every loss, 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.”

17. Thus, last week, Defendant New York Football Giants, Inc. (the “Giants” or

“New York Giants”) had an opportunity to move a step in the right direction, if even only one.  The Giants had the chance to hire Mr. Flores, an eminently qualified Black man, to be the first Black Head Coach in the Giants’ nearly 100-year history. 

“18. Instead, the New York Giants made the decision to hire Brian Daboll—and disclosed that decision to third parties—during a time when the Giants were scheduled to still interview Mr. Flores and when Mr. Flores was deceptively led to believe he actually had a chance at this job.” 

“19. Thus, on Wednesday, January 26, 2022, Mr. Flores was forced to sit through a dinner with Joe Schoen, the Giant’s new General Manager, knowing that the Giants had already selected Mr. Daboll.  Much worse, on Thursday, January 27, 2022, 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. “

“20. The Giants would likely have gotten away with this most insidious form of discrimination if New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick had not mistakenly disclosed it to Mr. Flores in the … text messages.”

“21. Incredibly, this was not Mr. Flores’ first sham interview that was held only in an

effort to comply with the Rooney Rule. 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 drinking heavily the night before.

It was clear from the substance of the interview that Mr. Flores was interviewed only because of the Rooney Rule, and that the Broncos never had any intention to consider him as a legitimate candidate for the job. Shortly thereafter, Vic Fangio, a white man, was hired to be the Head Coach of the Broncos.”

Find Brian Flores’ full Class Action Lawsuit here.

Paige Elliott contributed to this story.