Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores stunned the sports world with his racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL on Tuesday, likening the professional football league to a plantation that exploits Black labor.
"In certain critical ways, the NFL is racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation," says the suit, which Flores filed against the league, the New York Giants and other teams.
"Its 32 owners — none of whom are Black — profit substantially from the labor of NFL players, 70% of whom are Black," the suit says. “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.”
Flores, who is Black, was fired by the Dolphins after the recently concluded season even though his teams went 24-25, including a 9-8 mark in 2021 and a 10-6 record in 2020.
After the dismissal, Flores became a top coaching candidate throughout the league and lined up an interview with the Giants.
But the interview was for show, he said, to satisfy the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” which mandates that every team must interview a minority candidate for head coach, general manager and top assistant coach positions.
Here are the main takeaways from Flores' lawsuit, unpacked.
The interview ‘held for no reason’ — as revealed by texts attributed to Bill Belichick
Flores' suit says he was scheduled to interview for his dream job, head coach of the Giants, on Jan. 27. But on the Monday before the interview, he received confusing texts from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
"Sounds like you have landed - congrats," Belichick texted, according to screenshots included in the lawsuit.
Flores responded, "Did you hear something I didn't hear?"
"Giants?!?!?!" Belichick wrote back. "You are their guy," he wrote in part.
"That's definitely what I want. I hope you're right coach," Flores said.
And then something seems to have dawned on him. "Coach, are you talking to Brian Flores or Brian Daboll, just making sure."
Belichick then wrote: "Sorry ... I double checked and misread the text. I think they are naming Brian Daboll. I’m sorry about that. BB."
Flores then had to sit through dinner Wednesday with the Giants’ general manager and the interview Thursday, the lawsuit says, knowing full well that Daboll had been chosen for the job.
"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," the suit says.
The lawsuit notes that the Giants have never had a Black head coach in their nearly 100-year history.
The Giants insist that they interviewed Flores in good faith and nearly hired him.
“We are pleased and confident with the process that resulted in the hiring of Brian Daboll. We interviewed an impressive and diverse group of candidates,” the team said in a statement Tuesday.
“The fact of the matter is, Brian Flores was in the conversation to be our head coach until the eleventh hour,” it said. “Ultimately, we hired the individual we felt was most qualified to be our next head coach.”
The Patriots said they did not expect Belichick to respond to the lawsuit, and Belichick's nonprofit organization did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Flores said it wasn't his first ‘sham interview’
In 2019, according to the suit, Flores had an interview set up with the Denver Broncos.
But the Broncos’ general manager at the time, John Elway; their president and CEO, Joe Ellis; and others showed up an hour late to the interview, disheveled and hung over, the suit says.
"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 says. "Shortly thereafter, Vic Fangio, a white man, was hired to be the Head Coach of the Broncos."
Neither Elway nor Ellis immediately responded to requests for comment Wednesday. Representatives for the Broncos also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement Tuesday to NBC affiliate KUSA of Denver, the Broncos called the allegations “blatantly false” and insisted that the interview “began promptly at the scheduled time.”
“Our process was thorough and fair to determine the most qualified candidate for our head coaching position," the statement said. "The Broncos will vigorously defend the integrity and values of our organization — and its employees — from such baseless and disparaging claims.”
The allegedly futile Rooney Rule
The Rooney Rule was instituted almost 20 years ago, when there were three Black head coaches in the NFL, Flores' suit says.
Now, the suit points out, there is only one Black head coach — Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"That marks a complete lack of improvement, and in fact, a move backwards in the wrong direction," the suit says.
While "well intentioned," the Rooney Rule "is not working," the suit says.
"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," it says.
As a result, "only 11% of Head Coach positions have been filled by Black candidates — in a league where 70% of players are Black," the suit adds. "The numbers of Black Head Coaches, Coordinators and Quarterback Coaches are not even close to being reflective of the number of Black athletes on the field."
And the Black head coaches who do get chances, like Flores, are kept on a "short leash," the suit says.
The NFL denied Flores’ claims and said it would fight the suit.
“The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations,” it said in a statement.
“Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time,” it said. “We will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”
Other Black coaches who have been passed over or quickly dismissed
The suit lists six coaches who it says were discriminated against within the NFL because they are Black.
Jim Caldwell and Steve Wilks were fired despite their success with their teams, the suit says.
Caldwell took the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl his first year and had a winning second year, but the team fell after its lost its starting quarterback, Peyton Manning, and "despite his past success and the justifiable reasons for this poor record in one season out of three, Mr. Caldwell was fired," the suit says.
He was then hired by the Detroit Lions and fired again even though he had winning records in a majority of his seasons.
The Arizona Cardinals fired Wilks after just one poor season, while the white head coach who succeeded him was given time to improve after a poor season, the suit says.
Meanwhile, Kris Richard of the New Orleans Saints, Teryl Austin of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Eric Bieniemy of the Kansas City Chiefs — all successful NFL coordinators and coaches — have never been given the chance to become head coaches. David Culley has been passed over for offensive or defensive coordinator positions, according to the lawsuit, and was recently fired as the head coach of the Houston Texans after just one season.
Austin, who has also been successful with the Lions, the Seattle Seahawks and the Baltimore Ravens, has interviewed for 10 open head coaching positions and rejected for each one, according to the suit.
After he interviewed for four positions in 2016, he said, only two interview processes felt "legitimate," according to the suit. Austin called the two other processes "Rooney Rule interviews," the suit says.
Flores’ firing and allegations he was asked to ‘tank’ the Dolphins
Flores’ lawsuit also accuses the Dolphins of demanding that he lose games — or “tank.”
The pro sports strategy makes winning a low priority so payroll can be kept to a minimum while a team can be rewarded with high choices in the college draft that could lead to success in the future.
The owner of the Dolphins, Stephen Ross, wanted Flores "to 'tank' the season to put the team in position to secure the first pick in the draft" and offered him $100,000 for each game lost that year, the suit says.
"When the Dolphins started winning games, due in no small part to Mr. Flores’ coaching, Mr. Flores was told by the team’s General Manager, Chris Grier, that ‘Steve’ was ‘mad’ that Mr. Flores’ success in winning games that year was ‘compromising [the team’s] draft position,’” the suit says.
Ross also had asked Flores in 2019 to "recruit a prominent quarterback in violation of League tampering rules," which Flores refused to do, the suit says.
Flores was fired Jan. 10.
Flores was "labeled by the Dolphins brass as someone who was difficult to work with," the suit says. "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."
Dolphins senior vice president and spokesman Jason Jenkins said Tuesday: “We vehemently deny any allegations of racial discrimination and are proud of the diversity and inclusion throughout our organization.
"The implication that we acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect," he added.
Flores' 58-page suit, in part, details the NFL's "unacceptable history with race relations," starting in 1920, when few Black players were allowed in the league.
The suit also alleges discrimination against Colin Kaepernick and discrimination against Black players in the NFL’s concussion settlement — by way of using “race-norms” in determining whether players had suffered cognitive impairment — and it alleges that the league's response to nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd was “hypocritical.”
Flores' suit says the NFL might be able to avoid a repeat of those offenses by putting more Black people in positions of power.
He asks that the NFL "increase the influence of Black individuals in hiring and termination decisions," not just for head coaching jobs, but also for general manager and offensive and defensive coordinator positions.
Ensuring a diversity of team ownership is one step toward the goal, the suit says. There are no Black owners of NFL teams.
The suit also asks that the league permit "select Black players and coaches to participate in the interviewing process" for leadership positions and "require NFL Teams to consider side-by-side comparisons of objective criteria, such as past performance, experience and objective qualifications."
Flores said Wednesday on "CBS Mornings" that he still hopes to coach in the NFL and realizes that his lawsuit might pit him against the people who would be in charge of giving him a job.
"But this is bigger than football. This is bigger than coaching," he said.