On Tuesday, former Dolphins head coach — and former Patriots assistant — Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL, the Giants, the Dolphins, and the Broncos, alleging discrimination in his interview process and racist hiring practices against candidates of color for coaching and front-office positions.
Flores’ filing takes on the continued ineffectiveness of the Rooney Rule — which requires NFL teams to interview a quota of minority candidates for every open coaching or front-office position — and included screenshots of texts from Bill Belichick that seemingly prove the Giants had already chosen Brian Daboll to be their head coach before they conducted an interview with Flores.
Here are six takeaways from a closer look at the document.
Flores was “humiliated” by the Giants situation
Per the suit, Flores had dinner with Giants GM Joe Schoen last week “knowing that the Giants had already selected Mr. Daboll,” and then had to conduct an “extensive” interview the next day even though he knew the franchise had already chosen Daboll.
“The New York Giants subjected him to a sham interview in an attempt to appear to provide a Black candidate with a legitimate chance at obtaining the job,” the suit states.
The suit went in-depth detailing the troublesome history of the Giants — who have not had a Black head coach in their 100-year history, despite 22 coaching changes.
The problem goes deeper than just the Giants
The NFL famously needed more than 40 years to accept Black quarterbacks. In 20 years since the Rooney Rule was implemented, NFL teams have hired just 15 Black coaches. As noted in the suit, the 10 Black coaches hired since 2012, none are still in their position today (by comparison, 25 percent of white coaches hired over that period remain in place). Black coaches meanwhile average just 2.5 years on the job while white coaches average 3.5 years.
“Put another way, white Head Coaches are afforded an entire additional year to establish themselves relative to Black Head Coaches,” the suit states.
The suit also highlighted the practice of “race-norming,” in which Black players who suffered traumatic head injuries were paid less than white players in the NFL’s 2017 settlement. Race-norming assumes Black players have lower cognitive function than white players, which complicates diagnosing head injuries. The suit drew a parallel between race-norming and the NFL’s apparent resistance toward hiring coaches and GMs of color.
As the suit pointed out, NFL executives — including Troy Vincent, the Vice President of Football Operations — have themselves admitted there is a “double standard.”
“I don’t think that that is something that we should shy away from,” Vincent said in January. “But that is all part of some of the things that we need to fix in the system.”
“These are literal admissions of liability and fault on the part of the NFL and its owners, and yet no meaningful remedial action has been taken to remedy this recognized discrimination,” the suit states.
Flores wants the NFL to be more accountable
So what exactly is Flores looking for? The suit calls for several things:
- More influence from Black individuals in hiring and firing processes, spurred in part by a committee to source potential Black investors to become stakeholders in the teams.
- More objectivity, including written rationale for hiring and firing decisions, as well as side-by-side criteria for candidates.
- More Black coordinators, facilitated in part by a training program for promising lower-level Black coaches created and funded by the NFL (Flores started with the Patriots in a similar role).
- Pay transparency.
- And, perhaps most ambitious, incentivized hiring and retention of Black candidates through monetary or draft compensation, as well as additional cap space.
Stephen Ross tried to get Flores to lose on purpose
The suit alleges that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered Flores $100k for every game the team lost during the 2019 season, presumably hoping for an opportunity to draft Joe Burrow — the consensus No. 1 pick that year. Later, the suit says Dolphins GM Chris Grier told Flores that Ross was angry Flores helped them win so many games (Miami finished with five wins and ultimately drafted Tua Tagovailoa).
Meanwhile, the suit alleges that after the 2019 season, Ross asked Flores to recruit a “prominent” quarterback, which would have violated tampering rules. Flores refused. In the winter of 2020, Ross invited Flores to his yacht for lunch. When Flores arrived, Ross told him the prominent quarterback would be at the marina shortly (Flores says he left immediately).
Per Flores, Ross labeled him as “non-compliant” and “difficult to work with” after he refused to tamper.
“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 suit states.
Flores accuses the Broncos front office of showing up to his interview hungover
Flores said the Giants weren’t the only team who tried to fulfill their Rooney Rule requirements by interviewing him. In 2019, Flores was interviewed by the Broncos for an open head-coaching position. The suit says then-GM John Elway and CEO Joe Ellis — among others — showed up over an hour late and “it was obvious” they had been 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,” the suit reads. “Shortly thereafter, Vic Fangio, a white man, was hired to be the Head Coach of the Broncos.”
Flores is well aware of the enormity of the situation
The opening lines of the 58-page document include a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Morals cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. The law cannot make an employer love me, but it can keep him from refusing to hire me because of the color of my skin.” In the preliminary statement, Flores and his legal team acknowledge the start of Black History Month and thank Black leaders like King, Harriett Tubman, Jackie Robinson, and Frederick Douglass, noting that there is still “so much more to be done.”
The suit then draws a powerful comparison between the NFL and a plantation. While players are well paid, the suit points out that there are no Black owners in the NFL and that players sacrifice their mental and physical health while owners rake in profits.
“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,” the suit reads.
The suit certainly doesn’t mince words. Midway through, the writers outline how Colin Kaepernick was shunned from the NFL.
Flores is well aware he might be setting himself up for the same fate.
“In making the decision to file the class action complaint, I understand that I may be risking coaching the game I love and has done so much for my family and me,” Flores said in a statement on Tuesday. “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.”