Broncos, Elway deny discrimination claims by former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores

Brian Flores-Lawsuit Football
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a class action lawsuit Tuesday against the National Football League, the New York Giants, the Miami Dolphins and the Denver Broncos, alleging racial discrimination in hiring practices across the league.

Flores, who is Black and the son of Honduran immigrants, included the Broncos in his complaint in connection with a 2019 interview for the team’s head coaching job. The suit claims then-General Manager John Elway, President and CEO Joe Ellis and others arrived an hour late to the interview, and Flores has characterized the meeting as a “sham.”

“[The Broncos’ representatives] looked completely disheveled, and it was obvious that they had [been] drinking heavily the night before,” the complaint adds. “It was clear from the substance of the interview that Mr. Flores was interviewed only because of the Rooney Rule, and that the Broncos never had any intention to consider him as a legitimate candidate for the job.”

The Rooney Rule is an NFL policy created in 2003 to require that teams interview at least two ethnic minority candidates for head coaching roles. Other minimum requirements apply for position coaches, coordinators and senior level positions.

The Broncos ultimately hired Vic Fangio, who is white, as the team’s head coach for the 2019 season. He was fired in January after two years in the role, and the team has since hired Nathaniel Hackett as Fangio's replacement.

Elway strongly denied the claims in a statement Thursday, saying he “interviewed Brian in good faith.”

“I took Coach Flores very seriously as a candidate for our head coaching position in 2019 and enjoyed our 3 1/2-hour interview with him. Along with the rest of our group, I was prepared, ready and fully engaged during the entire interview as Brian shared his experience and vision for our team.

“It’s unfortunate and shocking to learn for the first time this week that Brian felt differently about our interview with him.”

The Broncos echoed Elway’s defense in a statement, calling the allegations “blatantly false.”

“Our interview with Mr. Flores regarding our head coaching position began promptly at the scheduled time of 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2019, in a Providence, R.I., hotel. There were five Broncos executives present for the interview, which lasted approximately three-and-a-half hours — the fully allotted time — and concluded shortly before 11 a.m.

“Pages of detailed notes, analysis and evaluations from our interview demonstrate the depth of our conversation and sincere interest in Mr. Flores as a head coaching candidate.”

Brian Flores Lawsuit Football
Jack Dempsey/AP
Former Denver Broncos general manager John Elway, left, stands with Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis before an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders in Denver, Jan. 1, 2017. Elway is refuting Brian Flores' claim in a lawsuit that his interview with the Denver Broncos in 2019 was a sham and only conducted to satisfy the NFL's Rooney Rule.

The NFL, like many professional sports bodies, has a long history of racism and discrimination that still pervades the league today. Head coaches and executives are overwhelmingly white, while just over 70 percent of players are Black.

Since Flores’ recent firing from the Miami Dolphins, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers remains the only Black head coach out of the 32 head coaches in the league. Just two other active head coaches are people of color, according to the latest annual report published in December by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. Of the nine head coaching jobs that opened after the NFL’s regular season ended in January, all five hires have been white men.

Flores’ complaint likens these racial disparities to a modern day plantation.

“The owners watch the games 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,” the lawsuit said.

In a statement released Tuesday, Flores explained what motivated his decision to file the complaint.

"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 wrote. "In making the decision to file the class action complaint, I understand that I may be risking coaching the game I love and has done so much for my family and me. 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."

The complaint, announced on the first day of Black History Month, was filed the same day that the Pat Bowlen Trust, which currently owns the Broncos, officially announced plans to sell the team. Among other allegations, it also accuses Dolphins owner Stephen Ross of trying to pay Flores for losing games so that the team could secure a higher draft pick. Ross has denied any wrongdoing.