Brian Flores v. NFL

By Jenna Anderson, Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of

On February 1, 2022, Brian Flores filed a class-action complaint with 40 other John Doe coaches against the National Football League (NFL), specifically naming the New York Giants, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos.[1] The complaint alleges the NFL is “rife with racism”, particularly related to the hiring and retention of Black head coaches, coordinators and general managers.[2] Flores contends the NFL has a pattern of racist hiring practices, citing a “sham interview” and other interactions with team owners and coaches. In a statement responding to the lawsuit, the NFL responded that those claims were meritless.[3]

Flores, a Black Latino, has nearly two decades of experience scouting and coaching for the League.[4]He got his start as a coaching assistant for the New England Patriots where he advanced from scouting assistant to linebackers’ coach.[5] Despite his duties expanding to defensive play calling, Flores was never officially promoted to defensive coordinator.[6]  

In 2019, after 15 years with the Patriots, Flores was hired to lead the Miami Dolphins.[7] During his three-year stint as head coach, the team had a 24-25 record and their first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003.[8] He was fired on January 10, 2022.[9] In his complaint, Flores asserts his termination is indicative of the higher standard of success Black coaches are held to. According to a working paper from the Global Sport Institute, nonwhite head coaches averaged significantly shorter tenures than their white counterparts and were less likely to land a second head coaching position after getting fired.[10]

Flores also alleges Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered to pay Flores $100,000 for every loss sustained during his first season as head coach because Ross wanted to “tank” the team.[11] “Tanking” is the practice of intentionally creating a non-competitive team to take advantage of the unique NFL rules that give losing teams a higher slot in the draft. 

On January 24, 2022 Patriots head coach Bill Belichick texted Flores about the New York Giants head coach position he hadn’t yet interviewed for. Belichick mistakenly wrote that Flores was “their (the Giants’) guy”. The next day, Belichick admitted he intended to text Brian Daboll, a white applicant interviewing for the same position. This led Flores to believe he was not being interviewed for the position in good faith, but merely to comply with the “Rooney Rule”. Flores also believes an earlier interview for the Denver Broncos in 2019 was farcical, based on the brief substance of the interview and the fact that the then-general manager came to the interview an hour late and appeared “completely disheveled”.[12]

The “Rooney Rule” is named after the late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the NFL’s Workplace Diversity Committee. Originally, the policy required every team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one diverse candidate.[13] The rule has since evolved to include multiple diverse candidates, apply to general manager jobs and other front-office positions, and reward teams that retain diverse executives and coaches with a higher position in the third-round draft.[14]  

However, the policy has not had the intended outcome. Since the rule was adopted in 2002, only 15 of 129 vacant head coaching positions have been filled by Black candidates.[15] Until recently, the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin was the League’s only Black head coach[16].  

On February 19, the Steelers announced their hiring of Flores as senior defensive assistant/linebacker coach.[17] Even prior to this hiring, Flores’ legal dispute faced steep hurdles. Class action discrimination suits require a high level of commonality between members of the proposed class. This is a challenging standard in discrimination cases, where experiences of alleged discrimination tend to vary by individual.[18]

Evidence of the race-based discrimination being the reason Flores was passed over for head coach positions is the essential element of his claim. Discovery of materials evidencing the “sham” interview, Ross’ attempt to bribe Flores, and other otherwise-qualified coaches is needed to prove it. 

Given how successful the NFL has been in preventing discovery when the sought information is sensitive or unflattering (see the concussion controversy[19]), it will not be easy. But Flores appears more interested in systemic change than personal vindication, stating, “I love coaching…But this is bigger than that. We’re at a fork in the road right now.”[20] 

[1] United States District Court Southern District of New York. Brian Flores v. The National Football League; New York Football Giants, Inc; Miami Dolphins, Ltd.; Denver Broncos; and John Doe Teams 1 through 29. February 1, 2022. 

[2] Id. 

[3] NFL Wire Report.Former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores sues NFL, three teams alleging racist hiring practices. Feb 1, 2022. 

[4] Ian O’Connor. The Patriot’s next coaching star? His odds were incredibly long. ESPN. March 7, 2018.

[5] ESPN. Brian Flores to call Pats’ defensive plays without DC title. March 7, 2018.

[6] Id. 

[7] Hal Habibi. Let’s discuss the Miami Dolphins, Brian Flores, and race, shall we? THE PALM BEACH POST. January 12, 2019. 

[8]  NFL Wire Report.Former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores sues NFL, three teams alleging racist hiring practices. Feb 1, 2022. 

[9] Id. 

[10] Gallagher, K.L, Lofton, R., Brooks, S.N., Brenneman, L. (2021). Field Studies: NFL Head Coach Hiring and Pathways in the Rooney Rule Era. Retrieved from Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University (GSI Working Paper Series Volume 1 Issue 2).

[11] Mark Maske. NFL plans to investigate Brian Flores’ tanking, tampering allegations against Dolphins. The Washington Post. February 2, 2022. 

[12] Christian D’Andrea. Brian Flores’ NFL lawsuit alleges Broncos GM John Elway was ‘drinking heavily’ night before coaching interview. USA TODAY. February 

[13]NFL Operations. Diversity & Inclusion: The Rooney Rule. Retrieved from on Febuary 20, 2022.

[14] Id. 

[15] Cydney Posner. Is the Rooney Rule just window dressing? COOLEY PUBCO. February 3, 2022. 

[16] Id. 

[17] Steelers Press Conferences. Flores named Senior Defensive Assistant/Linebackers. Retrieved from on February 20, 2022 

[18] Jeremy Stahl. Brian Flores’ lawsuit could devastate the NFL even if he loses. SLATE. February 3, 2022. 

[19] Andrew Brandt. Business of Football: How likely is Brian Flores’s lawsuit to bring about systemic change? SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. February 2, 2022.

[20] Jordan Dajani. Brain Flores discusses NFL lawsuit, calls legal action bigger than himself: ‘We’re at a fork in the road’. CBS SPORTS. February 2, 2022. 

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