Brian Flores has filed a lawsuit in Federal Court against the NFL and three specific teams in the NFL – – the Broncos, Giants and Dolphins. The common thread that runs through the allegations in the suit is the existence of a hiring bias against minority head coaching applicants; but the allegations against the specific teams are more specific and in one case as serious as a heart attack. I will try to open up the charges made here and offer commentary that comes from a position of legal ignorance but sociopolitical awareness.
The charge against the Broncos evidently involves an interview Flores had for the head coaching job there in 2019. Flores claims it was not genuine and took place only so the Broncos could say that they had followed the letter of the “Rooney Rule”. Flores says that John Elway – the Broncos’ GM at the time – arrived late to the meeting and was disheveled and gave the appearance that he had been “out the night before”. Obviously, the Broncos and Elway see that event very differently. Unless there is some other evidence to be evoked and/or testimony from others at the meeting to corroborate Flores’ allegation(s), this charge seems pretty thin to me.
The charge against the Giants is similar in the sense that Flores alleges that the Giants interviewed him only to comply with the “Rooney Rule” and that there was no intent on their part to hire him under any circumstances. Earlier this week, I wrote that it was understandable to me that the Giants’ first-time GM would hire someone he knew well and had worked with. I see that decision as the new GM establishing a comfort zone for himself and that should not be illegal. However, the timing is important there. If – as Flores alleges – he was interviewed AFTER the Giants’ new GM had made his decision and was negotiating a deal with another applicant, that puts this situation in a very different light.
The charge against the NFL is that the “Rooney Rule” is a complete sham, and that systemic racism exists in the processes by which head coaches – and to a slightly lesser extent offensive and defensive coordinators – get those jobs. I absolutely agree that the “Rooney Rule” is a fig leaf for the NFL; it covers up – minimally – the existence of an old-boys-network that has branches incorporating owners, GMs and head coaches. I also assert that the “Rooney Rule” is not codified anywhere in the law; so, I am not sure how or why that matter should come before a judge.
I have to pause here for a moment:
- I am not an attorney, but I understand that, in legal proceedings, precedent(s) are most important.
- There is precedent on the books that the FBI and DoJ prosecutors found a legal theory that held up allowing them to use laws governing interstate wire fraud to try and convict folks who had violated NCAA basketball recruiting rules.
- I see a definite parallel between the NCAA rules violations and the “Rooney Rule” circumvention – – so maybe this allegation against the NFL has legs?
The three charges outlined in brief above are not pretty; in fact, they would have to be cleaned up more than a bit to earn the label “smarmy”. The charges against the Dolphins – and Dolphins’ owner, Stephen Ross specifically – get close to “existential threat territory”.
First, Flores alleges that Ross wanted him to violate the NFL’s tempering rules to “recruit a prominent quarterback”. Flores refused and sometime later Ross invited Flores to join him on Ross’ yacht. Meanwhile, the “prominent quarterback” would just happen to be visiting the marina where the yacht was docked so that Flores and the quarterback could have a perfectly acceptable “chance encounter”. Once again, Flores refused to take part in this less than proper set-up.
That charge demands an NFL investigation – – one where there is a detailed report of the investigation and findings of the investigator that are shared with the public. Remember it is the public that provides the basis for the $15B or so that the NFL takes in every year; they have some reason to claim that the owners are playing by the rules that govern competitiveness on the field. Some fans may not care nearly as much about the issue(s) that drove passage of the “Rooney Rule”, but every NFL fan wants the game on the field to be on the up and up.
That last statement brings me to the second allegation in the suit against the Dolphins. Brian Flores alleges that Stephen Ross offered him $100K per game that the Dolphins would lose last year in order to enhance their draft position. [Aside: Hue Jackson has not said so directly but in Tweets he has strongly intimated that he too had a similar offer from the Browns’ ownership when he was the head coach in Cleveland.] Let me say the following as clearly as I can:
- IF THAT CHARGE TURNS OUT TO BE TRUE, the NFL must force a sale of the Miami Dolphins’ franchise immediately.
The NFL never wanted to admit that gambling on NFL games was a major factor in creating interest in the games and support for the teams – – until of course sports gambling became an industry in half the states and sportsbooks became a new revenue source for the league. That “gambling factor” continues to exist and has been magnified in the past several years. The single best way for the NFL to destroy that foundation piece of its popularity is for the ”betting public” to begin to suspect that game outcomes are determined somewhere other than on the field. That situation nudges up to “existential threat territory”.
There have been forced sales of franchises in US sports in the past. Marge Schott and Donald Sterling were forced to sell their baseball and basketball teams respectively; Jerry Richardson may not have been forced to sell the Carolina Panthers as pointedly as Schott or Sterling, but it is fair to say that the league offered him encouragement to sell the team and made the process of the sale as streamlined as possible. Given everything that those folks did to get on the wrong side of their leagues and their peers, none of that threatens the product that the league presents to the public as its raison d’etre.
The level to which these allegations can be shown to be true should have a significant effect on how Brian Flores “goes down in history”. This is potentially a watershed moment for the NFL; this is lots worse than the “toxic work environment” that may have existed in the Front Office of the Washington Football Team; this is worse than “Deflategate” or “Bountygate”. At the very least, Brian Flores must be seen as someone who was willing to damage – or even destroy – his own career as a football coach in the NFL to try to resolve a problem that he sees as very real and very wrong.
I have cited this before, but it bears repeating here. A former colleague used to say:
- Leadership is acting with integrity on that which you know to be true.
Using that yardstick, Brian Flores should be seen now and in the future as a leader.
Finally, let me close with a completely unrelated item that involves the NFL:
- Yesterday, we saw the introduction of the Washington Commanders – the new name for the team formerly known as the Washington Football Team.
- It was nice touch for the team to name itself after President Biden’s dog.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………