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Brian Flores lawsuit: Lawyers blast idea of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell overseeing arbitration

Vincent Frank

Back in February, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL and its teams, claiming racism in the hiring process for coaches and front office personnel around the league.

Flores’ lawsuit was of a class-action variety and came shortly after Miami surprisingly fired the head coach. Since then, two other former coaches in the league have joined the lawsuit — former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and former defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

The lawyers representing these three in court filed papers in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday pushing back against the idea of arbitration. In said paperwork, the lawyers claim that arbitration would be akin to a “kangaroo court” with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell likely overseeing it.

“If the Court compels arbitration, scores of employers following this case, and those who learn of it, will undoubtedly change their arbitration clauses to permit the appointment of an obviously biased decision-maker.”

Brian Flores lawyers on potential arbitration, via the Associated Press

Arbitration has come up a lot recently in connection with Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson and his current 11-game suspension. Watson was initially suspended six games after an independent arbitrator agreed to by both the NFL and NFLPA opted for that punishment. Accused of sexual misconduct by north of 20 women, Watson was ultimately suspended 11 games on appeal by the league after it appointed another individual to oversee the case.

Regardless of our opinion regarding Watson’s punishment (it didn’t go far enough in my humble opinion), the process has to be seen as a sham. How can the NFL pick its own arbitrator to oversee an appeal put forth by the league after a jointly-agreed-to arbitrator made the initial decision?

Brian Flores lawsuit against the NFL should go to jury

Brian Flores, Bill Belichick
Jan 9, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores watches from the sideline during the second quarter of the game against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

That’s the argument from lawyers representing Flores and the two aforementioned former NFL coaches in this class-action. Simpy put, the argument is that Goodell can’t be objective in the matter after previous comments from the league saying that these allegations are without merit.

“The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations. Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time. We will defend against these claims, which are without merit,” NFL statement on Brian Flores lawsuit.

There’s a certain backdrop to all of this, too. The NFL wants arbitration, in part, due to the fact that a jury trail would air its dirty laundry. On the other side, Flores’ attorneys believe that transparency should be the name of the game.

“We have said from the start that if the NFL wants to create change, the first step is to allow for transparency. The NFL’s attempt to force these claims into arbitration demonstrates an unmistakable desire to avoid any public accountability and ensure that these claims are litigated behind closed doors in a forum stacked against our clients.”

Brian Flores’ attorneys Douglas H. Wigdor and John Elefterakis said in a statement back in April

The NFL brought in a heavy hitter in the form of former United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch to represent it in this class-action case. It’s a clear indication that Goodell and Co. are doing whatever is possible to push back against both the claims made by Brian Flores and any damning evidence becoming public record.

You can judge for yourself what is happening behind the scenes.

For now, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni will likely make a decision on arbitration within the matter of weeks after she previously denied a request by Flores’ lawyers to gather further evidence before an ultimate decision is made.