The football day began with a written farewell from Tom Brady, whose opus had no room for mention of his 20 years and six championships with New England.
By afternoon, national talk abruptly turned to a bombshell civil-rights lawsuit filed against the NFL by fired Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, whose juiciest evidence was a series of mis-targeted texts he received from Patriots coach Bill Belichick that inflamed anew the open wound of racism in the hiring practices of the NFL.
After two decades of relentless football success, well, it sucks to be you, Boston fans.
Brady’s omission of gratitude to the old sod was a cold repudiation. But no one outside New England cares whether Patriots fans are butt-hurt. Especially in Seattle.
Brady’s retirement inevitably produced an explosion of televised hagiography that included video flashbacks of the Super Bowl That Cannot Be Discussed. Seattle’s Harborview Hospital reported numerous cases Tuesday of eye injuries produced by cocktail forks.
“This is difficult to write, but here goes: I am not going to make that competitive commitment anymore,” Brady wrote in part. “I have loved my NFL career, and now it is time to focus my time and energy on other things that require my attention.”
Difficult to write? Hah. Flores just signed away his NFL coaching career.
He sued his bosses; never a good career move. Then again, he has the receipts, and he’s not asking for monetary damages. He’s seeking something far more difficult for the NFL to make: Integrity.
Filed Tuesday in Manhattan, the suit claims the New York Giants violated the league’s guidelines (the Rooney Rule) covering inclusive hiring in picking their next head coach. It names the NFL, the Giants and the Denver Broncos as defendants.
Included in Flores’ complaint are screenshots of text messages in which Belichick tells Flores, a former Pats assistant coach, that another former Pats assistant, Brian Daboll, was selected by the Giants as their new head coach (but unannounced), even though Flores was preparing to be interviewed for the job by new general manager Joe Schoen.
Belichick mixed up his Brians.
“Sorry,” he typed. “I fucked this up.”
For the smartest man in football, that was a hell of a turnover.
The sham interview is exactly what irks Flores, the son of immigrants from Honduras, and other minority coaches. When hiring for head coaching vacancies, NFL owners, none of whom are Black, all too often check the Rooney box with deception and hire the guy that looks like them.
Flores, 40, was fired by the Dolphins after a 9-8 season, which was preceded by 10-6 in 2020. It was the first set of winning seasons in Miami since 2002-03. It looked as if progress was being made, but the word passed around Miami was that Flores didn’t work well with others.
The suit offered potential explanations for the allegation.
In 2019, the Dolphins were sufficiently bad to be in the running for the No. 1 pick in the next draft. Team owner Stephen Ross wanted to tank the season. The suit said he offered to pay Flores $100,000 for each loss. Flores refused, which is when the suit claimed he learned he was being branded uncooperative.
In 2020, Ross wanted Flores to help recruit a veteran quarterback from another team, whom the suit didn’t identify. Because the move would violate NFL tampering rules, Flores again refused. Undaunted, Ross invited Flores to lunch aboard a yacht at a marina where the targeted QB was supposed to arrive. Flores felt he was being set up, and again refused.
Said the suit: “After the incident, Mr. Flores was treated with disdain and held out as someone who was non-compliant and difficult to work with.”
If the allegations are true, Flores may have grounds for a separate wrongful termination suit. At minimum, the revelations flip on the lights to show how NFL front offices work. Which he also did to the Denver Broncos, who allegedly provided another sham interview.
In 2019, Flores was in Denver to interview for the head coaching vacancy. The suit said that then-general manager John Elway, along with the team CEO, showed up an hour late. According to the suit: “They looked completely disheveled, and it was obvious that they had been drinking heavily the night before.” The job went to a white guy, Vic Fangio, who was fired two weeks ago.
The charges come at a time of high vulnerability for the NFL regarding its attempts to walk its talk about diversity.
After the firings of Flores and Houston’s David Culley, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin is currently the league’s only Black head coach in an industry with a 70 percent Black workforce. Four of the nine coaching vacancies this season have been filled so far — all white guys. One of the vacancies was created when Raiders coach and former ESPN analyst Jon Gruden was forced to resign over racist, homophobic and misogynistic emails.
The suit covers a lot of historical ground, back to the NFL’s beginnings when racism was more deeply embedded in league and national cultures, explains how the league admitted failing Colin Kaepernick, then offers contemporary examples of overlooked candidates, mentioning former Seahawks assistants Kris Richard and Teryl Austin.
It uses direct quotes from league officials as “literal admissions of liability and fault on the part of the NFL and its owners, and yet no meaningful remedial action has been taken to remedy this recognized discrimination.”
The class-action complaint seeks injunctive relief by pushing the NFL to grow the candidate fields in a variety of ways and stop discriminatory practices. But this is not a problem the NFL can make go away via its proven tradition: Throwing money. Violations are hard to prove, solutions are squishy.
Nevertheless, as with Kaepernick, Flores seems willing to sacrifice his career to make a point.
“God has gifted me with a special talent to coach the game of football, but the need for change is bigger than my personal goals,” he said in a statement released by his attorneys. “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.”
Speaking truth to power is rarely easy or lucrative. Flores doesn’t need the grief.
On the other hand, Brady’s exit is tidy. Except for the Boston part.
But he’ll always need antagonists. Even in retirement.