The National Football League has been rocked this week by punishments levied in two of the most embarrassing off the field scandals in its history.
An independent arbiter has recommended a six-game suspension of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson due to allegations of sexual assault brought against him by 24 female massage therapists.
However at press time the NFL filed its appeal of the recommendation so we will take a day or 2 to try and unpack it all.
However the other shoe dropped Tuesday when the league announced its findings in its six-month investigation of allegations made by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross had tampered with quarterback Tom Brady and former Saints head coach Sean Payton, and also ordered him to tank games.
The Dolphins and Ross were found guilty of the tampering charge. The team will forfeit a 2023 first round draft choice and 2024 third round pick, Ross will be fined $1.5 million, suspended from any contact with his team until October 17, and unable to attend any league meetings until 2023.
Dolphins vice chairman Bruce Beal was also fined $500,000 for initiating the illegal contact with Brady and Payton’s agent, Don Yee.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, “The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity. I know of no prior instance of a team violating the prohibition on tampering with both a head coach and star player, to the potential detriment of multiple other clubs, over a period of several years. Similarly, I know of no prior instance in which ownership was so directly involved in the violations.”
However of the other charge made by Flores, that Ross offered him $100,000 per loss for “tanking” games during the 2019 season, lead investigator and former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White found no evidence that Ross had ordered the team’s former coach, Brian Flores to deliberately lose games.
White said there is no evidence the Dolphins tried to tank in 2019. Ross did make comments to team president and CEO Tom Garfinkel, general manager Chris Grier, senior vice president Brandon Shore and Flores that the team’s draft position should take priority over winning games.
But when Flores expressed his concerns in writing, he was assured that everyone wanted him to build a “winning culture in Miami.”
White added that Ross’s comment “was not intended or taken to be a serious offer, nor was the subject pursued in any respect by Mr. Ross or anyone else at the club.”
Ross, who has called Flores’ tanking allegations “false, malicious and defamatory” thanked the league for clearing him on those charges and said of the tampering findings, “With regards to tampering, I strongly disagree with the conclusions and the punishment. However, I will accept the outcome.”
Sadly however this is nowhere near over as the allegations are central to arguably the worst scandal the NFL faces right now, Flores’ still pending lawsuit against the NFL and the Dolphins, Broncos, Giants, Texans, Cardinals and Titans alleging racial discrimination against minorities in its hiring practices.
In a league in which roughly 60% of the players are minorities but only three of 32 head coaches are black clearly there is a serious problem.
However with 32 different owners each hiring just one head coach league wide, whether or not racial discrimination is the cause is a very different question.
Statistics can’t show unequivocally what’s in a person’s heart.
Perhaps even more to the point now that we know the Dolphins were trying to cheat and are guilty of at least kidding about tanking, what does it have to do with Flores being Latino and African American?
As that suit winds it’s way through the courts, currently awaiting a decision whether it will be heard by another arbitrator or is tried in a federal court, while the findings and punishment against the Dolphins are historic and severe it is almost certainly just an exhibition game compared to the much bigger story to come.