Will Congress Crack Down on the NFL?

Krista Solano

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2023

Within the past few years, the NFL has faced a plethora of scrutiny. Recent sexual harassment and discrimination allegations have pushed the NFL into Congress’ agenda. Congressional roundtable discussions have highlighted the importance of regulating the NFL, but no changes have been made yet.

NFL’s newest hurdle

On February 1, 2022, Brian Flores filed a class action complaint, alleging discrimination during his interview processes with the Denver Broncos and New York Giants and his recent firing from the Miami Dolphins. After serving a role as an assistant coach for the New England Patriots for ten years, Flores was interviewed for head coaching positions within the NFL. In his 58-page lawsuit, Flores also alleges his 2019 head coach interview with the Denver Broncos only occurred to satisfy the Rooney Rule. His complaint states many of his interviewers arrived late and hungover, clearly not interested in his interview.

The Rooney Rule requires NFL teams to interview at least one diverse candidate for many prominent empty positions within the franchise. For head coaches, the Rule mandates the franchise to interview two minority coaching candidates, requiring one interview to be in person.

The lawsuit further alleges that Dolphins owner, Stephen Ross, attempted to persuade Brian Flores to purposely lose games to increase the franchise’s draft position. As part of Ross’ alleged scheme, he offered Flores $100,000 for every game that the Dolphins lost in the 2019 season. Moreover, Flores alleges Ross instructed him to recruit a well-established quarterback at the end of the 2019 seasons, violating the NFL’s tampering rules. Flores claims his decision to not comply with Ross’ requests resulted in being treated as a difficult employee. Although he brought the franchise’s first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003, Flores was fired on January 10, 2022.

Following his dismissal from the Dolphins, Flores spoke with the New York Giants and scheduled an interview on January 27, 2022. New England Patriots’ coach, Bill Belichick, mistakenly texted Flores, congratulating him for getting the job three days before Flores’ interview was even scheduled. It turned out the Giants had decided to hire Brian Daboll, and Bill Belichik had incorrectly texted the wrong Brian. Subsequently, Flores was hired for an assistant position with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and his lawyer has stated that he continues to pursue his lawsuit against the NFL

Culture of sexual harassment within the Washington Commanders

On February 3, 2022, the House Oversight Committee held a roundtable, discussing report of sexual harassment within the Washington Commanders’ franchise (formerly known as the Washington Redskins and Washington Football Team). The roundtable followed a series of 2020 Washington Post articles that discussed multiple inappropriate situations within the Commanders’ franchise. Multiple women have accused team owner, Daniel Snyder, of sexual harassment.

In July 2021, the NFL published a brief statement of investigational findings, excluding any specifics. Commissioner Roger Goodell claimed the brief findings were sought out to protect the anonymity of the accusers. Formers Commanders’ employees and members of the Oversight committee were unsatisfied with the summary. The House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney sent a letter to Goodell demanding a formal report on the findings and supporting documents.

Congressional action

Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush wrote a letter to House Subcommittee Consumer Protection and Commerce chairwoman, Jan Schakowsky, requesting a subcommittee to investigate the systemic racism in the NFL. The letter points out that although seventy percent of NFL players are Black, there is currently only one Black head coach. Additionally, the NFL has never had a Black owner. In comparison, the NBA currently has 12 Black head coaches, and the MLB has two Black managers. Rush seeks to hold the NFL more accountable and increase diversity on and off the football field. He urges Jan Schakowsky to swiftly hold a hearing on the issue. As of now, it is unclear if such hearing will occur.

What could Congress do?

The House Oversight Committee holds the power to compel the NFL to provide documents and engage in interviews about any subject, including sexual harassment and racism. Given history, Congressional change is uncertain.

Congress has given the NFL leeway in the past. A 1961 law allows the NFL to bypass antitrust laws, allowing the sale of television rights as a collective unit. Moreover, the NFL backed out of its promise to donate millions to the National Institutes of Health, following the league’s acknowledgement of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Taxpayers footed the $16 million cost.

It is unclear what, if any, steps Congress will take to regulate the NFL.