Fired Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores sued the NFL and three of its teams Tuesday, saying racist hiring practices by the league have left it racially segregated and managed like a plantation.
The lawsuit in Manhattan federal court sought class-action status and unspecified damages from the league, the Dolphins, the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants, along with unidentified individuals.
Flores was fired last month by Miami after leading the Dolphins to a 24-25 record over three years. They went 9-8 in their second straight winning season, but failed to make the playoffs during his tenure.
“God has gifted me with a special talent to coach the game of football, but the need for change is bigger than my personal goals," Flores said in a release put out by the law firm representing him in the case.
"In making the decision to file the class action complaint today, I understand that I may be risking coaching the game that I love and that has done so much for my family and me. 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,” he said.
In a statement, the NFL said it will defend “against these claims, which are without merit.”
It added: “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. Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time.”
The Miami Dolphins said in a statement that they are aware of the lawsuit and deny the allegations of racial discrimination.
"We vehemently deny any allegations of racial discrimination and are proud of the diversity and inclusion throughout our organization," the statement read. "The implication that we acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect. We will be withholding further comment on the lawsuit at this time."
The lawsuit alleges that the league has discriminated against Flores and other Black coaches for racial reasons, denying them positions as head coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators and quarterbacks coaches, as well as general managers.
“In certain critical ways, the NFL is racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation,” the lawsuit said.
“Its 32 owners — none of whom are Black — profit substantially from the labor of NFL players, 70% of whom are Black. 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,” it added.
The lawsuit said the firing of Flores was typical for Black coaches who are not given the latitude other coaches receive to succeed. It noted that Flores led the Dolphins to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2003.
The improvement came even though, the lawsuit contends, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross told Flores he would pay him $100,000 for every loss during the coach's first season because he wanted the club to “tank” so it could get the draft's top pick.
The lawsuit alleged that Ross then pressured Flores to recruit a prominent quarterback in violation of the league's tampering rules. When Flores refused, he was cast as the “angry Black man” who is difficult to work with and was derided until he was fired, the suit said.
Last week, the Giants disclosed to third parties that they had decided to hire Brian Daboll as their new coach even when they had not yet had their scheduled meeting with Flores, the lawsuit said.
“Mr. Flores was deceptively led to believe he actually had a chance at this job,” the lawsuit said, adding that he had to endure a dinner with the Giants' new general manager knowing that the team had already selected Daboll.
In a statement, the Giants said: “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 fact of the matter is, Brian Flores was in the conversation to be our head coach until the eleventh hour. Ultimately, we hired the individual we felt was most qualified to be our next head coach.”
According to the lawsuit, his treatment by the Giants was typical of how the "Rooney Rule” has been administered for the last two decades.
The rule, named after Dan Rooney while he was chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee, was created to give more minority candidates opportunities to become a head coach and reward teams who develop them.
In 2020, the NFL amended the Rooney Rule to stipulate teams must interview at least two minority candidates not associated with their own team for a head coaching vacancy. Also, one minority candidate has to be interviewed for coordinator positions as well as high-ranking positions in the front office, including the general-manager role.
According to the lawsuit, only one of the NFL's 32 teams employs a Black head coach, only four of them employ a Black offensive coordinator and only 11 employ a Black defensive coordinator.
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