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Right there, in its preliminary statement on the second page of a 58-page class action suit, former NFL coach Brian Flores claims the NFL “is racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation” from America’s pre-Civil War South.
“It’s 32 owners — none of whom are black — profit substantially from the labor of NFL players, 70 percent of whom are black,” the Flores suit states. “The owners watch the game 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.”
So, yes, the lawsuit Flores and his lawyers filed Tuesday in United States District Court Southern District of New York is incendiary in both hyperbole and allegation.
And, yes, it takes a torch to NFL teams, owners, and general managers. It names names.
And, yes, Flores understands he may never coach in the league again because this is the kind of bridge burning from which few careers in any profession typically recover.
Not when you break trust with New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick by publishing his private texts.
Not when you claim former Denver Broncos general manager John Elway and club president Joe Ellis showed up to work either drunk or hung over on the day they interviewed Flores for the club’s head coaching job in 2019.
Not when you claim the New York Giants, who play in the same town where the NFL is headquartered and are one of the league’s legacy teams, conducted a sham interview with Flores to “demonstrate falsely to the league commissioner Roger Goodell and the public at large that it was in compliance with the Rooney Rule.”
And most definitely not when you claim Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross ordered Flores to “tank” and even offered him money to lose games on purpose.
All of these are mind-blowing allegations, and it gets uglier for Ross because Flores also claims the team owner asked him to violate the NFL’s tampering policy and try to recruit a “prominent quarterback,” who everyone now understands to be Tom Brady, to the Dolphins.
Someone who pulls back the curtain to this degree must hope to fundamentally change the NFL because he’ll never work in the league again unless there’s a massive transformation.
The guess here is there will not be a massive transformation, at least not in regards to the bottom line, which is NFL owners will continue to hire the general managers and head coaches they want.
Those billionaires will generally continue to pick the people they feel are the best fits for their clubs. And there’s no exact science for measuring that and certainly no dynamic anyone knows of for making sure minorities, usually black men, fill a proportionate number of available openings.
Proving racism in court, in other words, is going to be a bear for Flores and his legal team.
He thought he had trouble the first eight games of the 2021 season when his Dolphins lost seven games in a row? Wait until he sees the NFL walk into court with their dozen or so lawyers and the Giants walk into court with their handful of lawyers and the Broncos walk into court with their handful and so on.
The truth is this suit may never get to court because the NFL will try to squash it before it even reaches the discovery phase, before its people are asked to turn over documents or sit for depositions.
And even if we get to trial, how does Flores prove the Denver Broncos intended to be racially biased against him when the coach they hired before him, Vance Joseph, is black?
How does Flores show racial discrimination against the Dolphins when they hired him to be their head coach in 2019?
And hired Chris Grier, a black man, to be their general manager in 2016?
And hired Marvin Allen, a black man, as their assistant GM in 2019?
And hired Reggie McKenzie, a black man, as a senior personnel executive in 2019?
Flores’s case may have merit, but presenting convincing proof that jurors accept as fact is another matter.
Ironically, the biggest change this racial discrimination lawsuit is likely to bring is with the team that gave Flores his only chance to be a head coach: the Dolphins.
The racial allegations Flores makes against that team — that they painted him as, his words, “an angry black man” after he was fired — frankly, won’t hold water unless Flores is privy to internal communication among club personnel calling him out for being hard to get along with because he’s black.
It’s actually in the Dolphins’ interest for Flores to be seen in a positive light and for him to prosper and get hired by another team as soon as possible so the team wouldn’t be on the hook for the remaining two years of his contract.
So that’s not where the Dolphins are likely to get scorched by this lawsuit.
The reason they’re at risk of a seismic scandal is the Flores allegations go directly to integrity of the game issues.
Because Flores painted the organization in general and Ross specifically as tearing at the very fabric of competition by not always playing to win.
“The implication that we acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect,” the Dolphins said in a statement Tuesday. “We will withhold further comment on the lawsuit at this time.”
That’s good because nothing the Dolphins can say on that front is going to help.
The truth is, they tanked in 2019.
I reported in a January 2019 column for the Miami Herald that the words “tank” and “tanking” were expressly used in at least one head coach interview conducted by Ross and his group.
Anyone who saw Grier dismantle the 2018 roster and do little to rebuild it for 2019, other than make his draft selections, understood the Dolphins weren’t trying to field a competitive team.
And now Flores claims in the suit that Ross told him “that he would pay him $100,000 for every loss, and the team’s general manager, Chris Grier, told Mr. Flores that ‘Steve’ was ‘mad’ that Mr. Flores’ success in winning games that year was ‘compromising [the team’s] draft position.”
You see those quotation marks around the words “Steve” and “mad”? They suggest Flores has an email, voicemail, text or other documentation from Grier relaying that message.
If that’s the case, if there is even a shred of corroboration to the Flores allegations anywhere, the Dolphins are not just looking at a full blown NFL investigation but ramifications that could include Ross having to somehow give up the team.
If Flores kept any of his so-called receipts and has proof Ross wanted him to tamper with Brady, arguably the NFL’s greatest player ever, wanted Flores to lose on purpose, and offered him — let’s call them what they are — bribes to lose, then what path does Ross have for keeping this team?
This has no precedent.
The NFL has had myriad scandals, including Spygate and Deflategate in New England and Bountygate in New Orleans.
But Belichick never outed his own team in court or on national television. That’s exactly what Flores, who is scheduled to appear on CBS Wednesday morning, is doing.
And while Flores argued forcefully many times throughout the 2019 season the Dolphins were not tanking, his lawsuit now alleges something completely different. He alleges Ross instructed him to lose on purpose.
If he can prove it, it won’t matter who the Dolphins find to replace Flores in the coming days. The bigger story will be who replaces Ross in the coming months.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero