In federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday, Brian Flores sued the National Football League and three of its teams — the Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, and New York Giants — alleging that he was subject to racist hiring practices when he was a head coach in the league.
Flores claims that his meetings with the Broncos in 2019 and the Giants this January were “sham” interviews designed to be compliant on paper with the league’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least two minority candidates for head coaching jobs. In the interview in Denver, he claims then-General Manager John Elway and other executives arrived an hour late to the interview looking “completely disheveled,” per the suit, “and it was obvious that they had [been] drinking heavily the night before.”
The interview with the Giants last month was even stranger. After sitting for a first interview on January 18, Flores says he received a text from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, under whom he worked mostly as a defensive coach between 2008 and 2018. Belichick texted Flores three days before his second interview, saying “sounds like you have landed — congrats!!” When Flores asked if he meant to text him or a white candidate, former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Belichick responded: “Sorry — I fucked this up. I double checked and misread the text. I think they are naming Daboll.” Flores claims that although they had already decided on the other candidate prior to his second interview, the Giants co-director of player personnel texted him the next day encouraging him to “come in and win the f-ing job.”
Prior to the interview with the Giants in January, Flores was the head coach with the Miami Dolphins, where he led the team to its first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003. But according to the lawsuit, owner Stephen Ross told him to intentionally “tank” the franchise, offering $100,000 for each game the Dolphins lost. Ross also allegedly pressured Flores to try to recruit a star quarterback, which would be considered a violation of the NFL’s tampering rules. Flores refused to do so, and left a 2020 meeting on Ross’s yacht when the owner invited a “prominent quarterback” that day as well. After Flores left the yacht, the lawsuit says he was “held out as someone who was noncompliant and difficult to work with.” He was fired on January 10 after the Dolphins failed to make the playoffs.
All three teams have denied wrongdoing and the NFL issued a statement saying the claims are “without merit.” The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages from the league, also encourages the NFL to “increase the influence of Black individuals in hiring and termination decisions” for top positions and establish a “committee dedicated to sourcing Black investors to take majority ownership stakes in NFL Teams.” There are currently no Black owners of NFL franchises and there is only one Black head coach, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin.
The lawsuit states that “in certain critical ways, the NFL is racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation.” The legal filing comes months after the NFL ended its practice of “race-norming” payouts to Black players for brain injuries and the revelation of former head coach Jon Gruden’s aggressively racist emails.