PALM BEACH, Fla. — The NFL appointed Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to oversee its investigation of tanking allegations against the Miami Dolphins, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The accusations were made by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores in his racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and teams. Flores accused Dolphins owner Stephen Ross of offering him $100,000 per loss during the 2019 season in a failed attempt to secure the top pick in the 2020 draft.
The Dolphins went 5-11 that season and used the fifth choice in 2020 on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The Cincinnati Bengals got the top selection and used it on quarterback Joe Burrow.
Flores, fired by the Dolphins after last season, filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“The purported basis for his termination was alleged poor collaboration,” Flores’s lawsuit says. “In reality, the writing had been on the wall since Mr. Flores’ first season as Head Coach of the Dolphins, when he refused his owner’s directive to ‘tank’ for the first pick in the draft. Indeed, during the 2019 season, Miami’s owner, Stephen Ross, told Mr. Flores that he would pay him $100,000 for every loss, and the team’s General Manager, Chris Grier, told Mr. Flores that ‘Steve’ was ‘mad’ that Mr. Flores’ success in winning games that year was ‘compromising [the team’s] draft position.’”
Ross has denied Flores’s allegations, calling them “false, malicious and defamatory.” He has said that he and the Dolphins will cooperate with the NFL’s investigation.
“With regards to the allegations being made by Brian Flores, I am a man of honor and integrity and cannot let them stand without responding,” Ross said in a statement last month. “I take great personal exception to these malicious attacks, and the truth must be known. His allegations are false, malicious and defamatory. We understand there are media reports stating that the NFL intends to investigate his claims, and we will cooperate fully. I welcome that investigation and I am eager to defend my personal integrity, and the integrity and values of the entire Miami Dolphins organization, from these baseless, unfair and disparaging claims.”
The Dolphins could face severe disciplinary measures if Flores’s allegations are substantiated by White’s investigation.
“I found all of the allegations — whether they were based on racism or discrimination or the integrity of our game — all of those, to me, were very disturbing,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said during Super Bowl week. “They are very serious matters to us, on all levels. We need to make sure we get to the bottom of all of it. Integrity of the game is obviously an important element. … We are going to look into that. We are going to make sure if there were violations that they won’t be tolerated. … When we know what those facts are and the impact it has on our game, we’ll deal with it very seriously.”
White also is conducting the NFL’s investigation of the latest sexual harassment allegations against the Washington Commanders and their owner, Daniel Snyder. That investigation is focused on allegations made during a congressional roundtable Feb. 3. Tiffani Johnston, a former cheerleader and marketing manager for the team, told members of Congress that Snyder harassed her at a team dinner, putting his hand on her thigh and pressing her toward his limo. Snyder denied the accusations, calling the allegations made directly against him “outright lies.”
Goodell said Tuesday at the league’s annual meetings that there was “no timetable” for the completion of White’s investigation of the Dolphins.
Watson investigation update
Goodell said the league’s investigation of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is ongoing.
“Our people are working on it,” Goodell said. “Obviously these are serious charges. We’re looking at this seriously.”
Two grand juries in Texas declined to charge Watson with a crime, but he still faces 22 civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual misconduct. Watson has denied the allegations. Goodell said the league stressed to teams involved in the matter that Watson could face disciplinary measures under the NFL’s personal conduct policy even without criminal charges.
“They recognize that that’s something that we’re going to pursue,” Goodell said. “We’re going to make sure that we get to the bottom of the facts. ... When we get to that, a decision will be made on whether there should be any discipline.”
The determination of whether Watson violated the personal conduct policy will be made by a joint disciplinary officer under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association, Goodell said.
The Browns sent a package of draft choices, including three first-round picks, to the Houston Texans in a trade for Watson and signed him to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million.
Goodell said the lack of criminal charges makes it less likely that Watson would be put on paid administrative leave, via placement on the commissioner’s exempt list, pending a final disciplinary ruling.
Back in the locker room
The NFL said teams’ locker rooms will reopen to media members. Such access had been rescinded since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.