Feb. 1 (UPI) — Brian Flores, who was fired as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins last month, sued the NFL and all of its 32 teams Tuesday alleging racial discrimination against him and other Black coaches.
The 58-page class-action lawsuit filed jointly by Wigdor LLP and Elefterakis, Elefterakis & Panek in the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York alleges that the NFL “remains rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of” Black head coaches, coordinators and general managers.
“In certain critical ways, the NFL is racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation,” the suit states. “Its 32 owners — none of whom are Black — profit substantially from the labor of NFL players, 70% of whom are Black.”
In a statement, Flores, the son of Honduran immigrants, said he understood he may be risking “coaching the game that I love and that has done so much for my family and me,” by filing the suit against the league.
“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.
The suit says there’s racism in the NFL hiring process, stating that interviews with Black coaching and general manager candidates are “only being done to comply with the Rooney Rule,” which requires teams to interview two minority coaching candidates, at least one of whom must be interviewed in person.
It also notes there are more than 40 other coaches who could join the class action, but does not mention any by name.
On Tuesday evening the NFL issued a statement saying it is “deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices” and “will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”
The lawsuit cites texts from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, whom Flores worked with as an assistant coach. The texts congratulated Flores for being hired as the head coach of the New York Giants before he was scheduled to interview with the team and after his dismissal from the Dolphins.
On Friday, the Giants announced they hired Brian Daboll, a White man, as their next head coach. When Flores asked Belichick if his text messages were meant for him or Daboll, Belichick confirmed he was mistaken.
“I double checked & I misread the text. I think they are naming Daboll. I’m sorry about that,” Belichick wrote.
“Mr. Flores was not only denied the head coach position of the New York Giants but was humiliated in the process as the New York Giants subjected him to a sham interview in an attempt to appear to provide a Black candidate with a legitimate chance at obtaining the job,” the lawsuit states.
Giants spokesman Pat Hanlon said in a statement that the team was “confident in the process” that resulted in hiring Daboll.
“Flores was in the conversation to be our head coach until the eleventh hour,” Hanlon said.
Additionally, the suit states that Flores was invited to interview with the Denver Broncos in 2019 but then-General Manager John Elway, President and CEO Joe Ellis and others showed up to the interview an hour late and “looked completely disheveled” in addition to appearing to have been “drinking heavily the night before.”
Shortly after the interview, the team hired Vic Fangio, a White man, as its head coach.
“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 states.
The Broncos dismissed the allegations as “blatantly false” in a statement shared with ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
“Our process was thorough and fair to determine the most qualified candidate for our head coaching position,” the team said. “The Broncos will vigorously defend the integrity and values of our organization — and its employees — from such baseless and disparaging claims.”
The lawsuit also alleges Flores was dismissed by the Dolphins due to his reluctance to purposefully lose games during the 2019 NFL season to improve the team’s draft position and unwillingness to “recruit a prominent quarterback in violation of league tampering rules,” at the request of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.
Flores was fired on Jan. 10 after leading the Dolphins to a 24-25 record over three seasons.
“In reality, the writing had been on the wall since Mr. Flores’ first season as the head coach of the Dolphins, when he refused his owner’s directive to ‘tank’ for the first pick in the draft,” said the lawsuit, which accuses Ross of offering Flores $100,000 for each loss during the 2019 season.
The Dolphins finished 5-11 in 2019 after losing their first seven games and the lawsuit accuses Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier of telling Flores that Ross was “‘mad’ that Mr. Flores’ success in winning games that year was ‘compromising [the team’s] draft position.”
In a statement, the Dolphins said they “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,” the team added.