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Brian Flores Lawsuit: Shining a light on injustices within the NFL and issues with the Rooney Rule

By Grant Mantell

On February 1st, 2022, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores brought a class action lawsuit against the National Football League and all 32 NFL teams, alleging racial discrimination in hiring practices.[1] Not only did Flores allege there has been discriminatory hiring practices against black candidates for coaching and front office positions within the NFL, but he also alleged the league and its teams conducted sham interviews due to the NFL’s Rooney Rule.[2]

The issues and actions leading to this lawsuit began in 2019, where Flores alleged that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross attempted to incentivize Flores to lose games on purpose to obtain the number 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft.[3] Ross allegedly offered him $100,000 for every game the Dolphins lost.[4] Flores refused the offer and Ross was allegedly very angry when the team started winning games late in the year.[5] Additionally, Flores alleged that Ross pressured him to recruit a quarterback to come play for the Dolphins, but Flores refused to avoid violating the NFL’s tampering rules.[6] In spite of Flores’ refusal to recruit the quarterback, Ross reportedly invited Flores onto a yacht for lunch. While at the marina, Ross told Flores the quarterback was conveniently arriving at the marina.[7] Flores refused to meet with the quarterback and immediately left.[8]  After this incident, Flores was held out as someone who was difficult to work with and was treated with disdain.[9] This label of “difficult to work with” allegedly stuck with Flores after he was terminated following the 2021 NFL season, despite leading the Dolphins to their first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003.[10]

Flores also alleged the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants conducted sham head coach interviews for him in 2019 and 2021, respectively.[11] Flores claimed the Broncos general manager and president/CEO showed up an hour late to his interview, and it had been clear they had both been drinking heavily the night before.[12] Additionally, Flores presented text messages from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick as evidence that the Giants interview was a sham.[13] In the text messages, Belichick congratulated Flores, believing he was texting Brian Daboll, on becoming the new head coach of the Giants before Flores was even interviewed by the Giants.[14]

Flores and his counsel alleged that both the Broncos and the Giants interviewed him for their head coaching positions with the sole purpose of staying in compliance with the NFL’s Rooney Rule.[15] The NFL’s Rooney Rule states that teams are required to interview at least one external minority candidate for any general manager or head coach openings.[16] While one might think the Rooney Rule would help the NFL become more diverse, it has seemingly had the opposite effect. When the Rooney Rule was introduced in 2003, the NFL had three Black head coaches. On the day Flores filed his lawsuit, there was only one Black head coach in the league.[17]

With this lawsuit, Flores hopes to shine light on some of the racial discrepancies and injustices within the NFL.[18] In addition to an unspecified damages amount, Flores would like to see specific things addressed, including increased influence of Black individuals in hiring, an increase in Black coordinators, as well as incentivizing the hiring and retention of Black general managers, coaches, and coordinators.[19] Flores still needs to prove discrimination was involved in his firing and subsequently not being hired for other head coaching positions. However, this lawsuit is a step in the right direction in shining a light on the racial inequality that continues to plague the NFL’s coaching and front office hiring in a league where the vast majority of players are Black.


[1] Brian Flores NFL lawsuit: Live updates, legal analysis, news as former Dolphins coach files discrimination suit, The Athletic (Feb. 9, 2022, 9:48 AM), https://theathletic.com/live-blogs/brian-flores-nfl-lawsuit-live-updates-news-as-former-dolphins-coach-files-discrimination-suit-against-all-32-teams/PqUm2Bl11Qjl/.

[2] Zac Al-Khateeb, Brian Flores lawsuit, explained: Former Dolphins coach sues NFL, teams for discriminatory hiring practices, The Sporting News (Feb. 2, 2022), https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/brian-flores-lawsuit-explained-nfl-dolphins/17pmh4f1j1pmm15u24qvwjvvmv.

[3] Marcel Louis-Jacques, Brian Flores sues NFL, three teams as former Miami Dolphins coach alleges racism in hiring practices, ESPN (Feb. 1, 2022), https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/33194862/brian-flores-sues-nfl-others-former-miami-dolphins-coach-alleges-racism-hiring-practices.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Daniel Oyefusi & David Wilson, Brian Flores files lawsuit against Dolphins and NFL, alleging racial discrimination, Miami Herald (Feb. 1, 2022, 4:31 PM), https://www.miamiherald.com/sports/nfl/miami-dolphins/article257921448.html.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Louis-Jacques, supra note 3.

[11] Al-Khateeb, supra note 2.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Louis-Jacques, supra note 3.

[17] Tom Lutz, Brian Flores’s Racism lawsuit leaves Super Bowl struggling for attention, The Guardian (Feb. 12, 2022, 4:00 PM), https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2022/feb/12/brian-flores-racism-lawsuit-cincinnati-bengals-los-angeles-rams-super-bowl.

[18] Louis-Jacques, supra note 3.

[19] Id.