Brian Flores didn’t just create a major headache for Roger Goodell and the NFL Tuesday when he filed a lawsuit against the league alleging discrimination in its hiring practices.
Flores created two major headaches.
The most important one is that the lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the Southern District of New York, will force the NFL to reckon with decades of discriminatory hiring practices. A league in which 70 percent of its players are Blacksomehow is going backward in regards to racial diversity, with just one Black head coach on the sidelines as of Wednesday.
But Flores’s lawsuit deserves the attention of Congress and federal authorities. It makes an explosive allegation that Stephen Ross, the Miami Dolphins owner since 2009, offered Flores a $100,000 bonus for every game the team lost in 2019 as the Dolphins were angling for the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
The Dolphins started 0-7 that year, including losses of 59-10, 43-0 and 31-6 to start the season. But the Dolphins won five of their final nine games, and Flores alleges that Dolphins general manager Chris Grier told him that Ross was “mad” that the wins were “compromising [the team’s] draft position.”
The lawsuit states Flores felt he was “ostracized” by the Dolphins in part because he “refused his owner’s [directive] to ‘tank’ for the first pick in the draft,” which eventually led to his firing after the 2021 season.
“To attack the integrity of the game, that’s what I felt was happening in that instance, and I wouldn’t stand for it,” Flores said Wednesday on CBS. “I think it hurt my standing within the organization and, ultimately was the reason why I was let go.”
Much like Jon Gruden became collateral damage in the Washington Football Team investigation, Ross and the Dolphins could find themselves in serious trouble over a lawsuit that primarily revolved around Flores’s job interview with the Giants.
“Sometimes what’s unearthed in one lawsuit becomes the basis for a totally different lawsuit,” said Miami-based trial attorney Brad Sohn, who has handled numerous class-action lawsuits against the NFL. “And if these allegations are true, there are potentially federal antitrust ramifications, federal racketeering statute violations that come into play. There are a lot of ways that that could be a problem.”
Proving the allegations won’t be easy. Flores’s attorneys said Wednesday on CNN that they have “corroborating evidence,” but didn’t offer it up. Flores also alleged that Ross told him several times to take a vacation and not worry so much about winning games.
“That’s not something you make up,” Flores said.
If the allegations are true, it’s hard to see how Ross can keep his team. He could, and should, be forced to sell.
For one, tanking is potentially a federal crime — racketeering and/or match fixing. It also exposes the NFL to potential lawsuits from fans over the authenticity of the games. It’s one thing for a team to take a long-term approach to roster building. It’s quite another for the owner to outwardly encourage his coach to lose games.
What’s the difference between Ross telling his coach to lose games, and former Reds manager Pete Rose betting on baseball games? Rose’s offense earned him a lifetime ban from his sport.
Congress, which already wants to speak to the NFL about its handling of the Washington Football Team sexual harassment investigation, certainly should perk up its ears about fixed NFL games.
The Dolphins responded to the lawsuit Tuesday with a statement that read in part, “The implication that we acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect.”
The league released a statement Tuesday that the NFL is “deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations,” and called Flores’s claims “without merit.”
But the statement didn’t address the tanking accusations against Ross. An NFL spokesman Wednesday didn’t respond to a question about whether the league plans to investigate Ross.
The silence was deafening.
Flores is going to need some sort of smoking gun to prove that Ross offered him the bonus to tank. But he apparently has an ally in former NFL coach Hue Jackson, who now is the head coach at Grambling State.
Jackson was the Browns’ head coach in 2016-17 when they went 1-31. After Flores filed his lawsuit Tuesday afternoon, Jackson and Kimberly Diemert, the executive director of Jackson’s foundation, alleged that the Browns also paid Jackson a bonus to lose games.
“Trust me it was a good number!” Jackson tweeted. He later said, “I stand with Brian Flores. I can back up every word I’m saying.”
Trust me it was a good number!— Hue Jackson (@huejack10) February 2, 2022
Diemert tweeted that owner Jimmy Haslam offered tanking bonuses to Browns leadership, including Sashi Brown, Paul DePodesta and Andrew Berry, along with Jackson.
“We have dozens of pages of fraud, coverup, and TANKING that goes beyond one team and 1 person getting paid,” Diemert tweeted. “The @NFL and @Browns want this buried because they know that the fans, the season ticket holders, the sponsors and the city can all sue them and get their $ back and force the sale of the team. Not to mention, there are several SEC violations that they want to bury.”
The @nfl and @Browns want this buried because they know that the fans, the season ticket holders, the sponsors and the city can all sue them and get their $ back and force the sale of the team.— Kimberly Diemert (@KimberlyDiemer1) February 2, 2022
Not to mention, there are several SEC violations that they want to bury. https://t.co/TH5lK7AxaX
At minimum, these allegations should finally encourage the NFL to institute a draft lottery, similar to the NBA. The incentive to tank games is too great, especially when former No. 1 pick Joe Burrow leads the Bengals from the worst record in the NFL to the Super Bowl in just two seasons. In 2018, Goodell said a lottery “is not under consideration” and “hasn’t been raised by either the committees or the clubs.” The owners should strongly consider changing their stance.
And someone needs to get to the bottom of these tanking allegations, whether it’s the NFL, Congress, federal authorities, or all three.
The allegations are nothing more than that until Flores can provide more proof. And proving it won’t be easy.
But nothing is more sacrosanct to the NFL, and all professional sports leagues, than the integrity of its games.
If Ross broke that trust, the NFL needs to toss him out of the club.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.