Brian Flores' NFL lawsuit needs more than denials to fix off-field failures | Editorial

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Just what die-hard Miami Dolphins fans need — allegations that team owner Stephen M. Ross tried to bribe its head coach to throw games to obtain the first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The coach, Brian Flores, refused but was later fired because he wasn't "collaborative" in his approach to the job.

The lawsuit that makes those allegations separately accuses the league of "plantation-style racism" and discriminatory hiring practices. Unfortunately, that's the storyline fans of this once-storied franchise now face.

Flores this week filed the class-action suit in federal court against the Dolphins and the National Football League, alleging that Ross offered him $100,000 per loss to enhance the team’s draft position.

Ross disputed the allegations. “We understand there are media reports stating that the NFL intends to investigate his claims, and we will cooperate fully," he said. "I welcome that investigation and I am eager to defend my personal integrity and the integrity and values of the entire Miami Dolphins organization, from these baseless, unfair and disparaging claims.”

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is congratulated by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross after the victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida.
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is congratulated by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross after the victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida.

Denials notwithstanding, the damage is clear. Once again, the NFL faces a controversy of its own making, an unforced error that runs counter to the values of "sportsmanship" and "teamwork" that society expects of it. At this point, the denials won't cut it. The NFL must immediately open itself to an independent investigation and do more to promote qualified minorities in its management.

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Stephen Ross is accused of pressuring Flores to recruit Tom Brady

Flores amassed a 24-25 record overall with the Dolphins, a mediocre record but one that wouldn't necessarily force a firing of an NFL coach. He won eight of the team's last nine games, barely missing the playoffs. It's a good record for a rebuilding team but apparently not enough to keep Flores employed.

"An organization can only function if it's collaborative, if it works together," Ross explained. "Communicate through collaboration."

What a statement. If the allegations are to be believed, Ross also pressured Flores to recruit "a prominent quarterback in violation of NFL tampering rules." The unnamed quarterback was later identified as Tom Brady, who was still with the New England Patriots.

More troubling, the suit centers on alleged abuse of the league's Rooney Rule, which requires teams filling vacant head coach positions to interview qualified minority candidates. Apparently, it's not working as intended, to promote diversity. Flores alleged he was awarded fake interviews, just for teams to meet the rules requirement, only for him to learn afterward that the jobs had been given to others before he'd walked in the door.

The case of the Giants coaching job and the erroneous Bill Belichick text message

Flores was scheduled to be interviewed by the New York Giants for their head coaching vacancy but learned three days before the interview — by a mistakenly sent text congratulating the wrong Brian — that that game was already over. "Sorry – I (bleeped) this up," the suit quotes New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a former boss who sent Flores the text: "I double-checked and misread the text. I think they are naming Brian Daboll."

Response in Flores lawsuit: Stephen Ross, John Elway, New York Giants rebut claims by Brian Flores in lawsuit

The lawsuit prompted quick denials. The Dolphins, who have had African-American coaches and quarterbacks, issued a statement denying "any allegations of racial discrimination" and saying the team was proud of the diversity and inclusion throughout the organization.

The Giants denied any misdeeds and the NFL added, in its own 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."

Maybe so but when it comes to the league's 32 head coaching positions, the NFL argument rings hollow. The league started this season with five minority coaches — Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, David Culley of the Houston Texans, Ron Rivera of the Washington Commanders, Robert Saleh of the New York Jets and Flores. Only three remain. The majority of teams have had at least one minority head coach over the years but with one or two exceptions, those coaches — particularly the Black ones — got the quick hook. Only one of 32 teams now has a Black head coach.

All Dolphins fans wanted was a winning team. Instead they have an owner saddled with off-field allegations of rule-breaking and a league accused of racism. The Flores lawsuit points to problems in ethics and equity that the NFL needs to fix. The sooner, the better.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Brian Flores' Dolphins lawsuit highlights NFL's off-field failures