The NFL thrives in good times and in bad. The bad times that have suddenly arrived on the NFL’s doorstep may test that reality like nothing ever has.
The league has its first major integrity-of-the-game scandal of the legalized betting era. Former Dolphins coach Brian Flores claims that team owner Stephen Ross offered Flores $100,000 per loss in 2019. Former Browns coach Hue Jackson has made similar claims, and the executive director of Jackson’s foundation claims that she has documentation to show that Jackson, former Browns executive Sashi Brown, current Browns executive Paul DiPodesta, and current G.M. Andrew Berry received bonuses in 2016 and 2017, seasons that culminated in the Browns “earning” the first overall pick in the next draft.
So what will NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell do about this? Will owners, who are supposedly held to the same standard as players (eye roll emoji), be investigated aggressively? Will they be punished, if the facts show that the contentions are true?
Or will the league look the other way, brushing the claims under the rug and/or aggressively denying their accuracy and/or pretending like none of it ever happened?
It may be impossible for the league to do nothing. Congress already has taken action regarding the clumsy coverup of the Washington Football Team toxic workplace investigation. How long until one or more committees send a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell seeking information about the claim that multiple teams TRIED TO LOSE GAMES?
Although the incentive for bad teams to lose games in order to enhance draft status has hidden in plain sight for decades, specific and troubling allegations of ownership acting on that temptation are unprecedented. While it makes sense to take a short-term hit in order to secure a team’s long-term interests (indeed, how much better would the Dolphins be right now if they’d secure the ability to draft Joe Burrow?), it’s jarring to see that an owner allegedly has made the strategic decision to try to lose games, and allegedly has attached a specific and significant financial incentive to it.
In early 2018, before the Supreme Court opened the gambling floodgates, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban freely admitted to tanking in order to enhance draft status in an appearance with Dan Patrick. Cuban was fined $600,000 for his comments. For the NFL, the consequences likely would be far more severe. If it’s proven that Stephen Ross or Jimmy Haslam or any other owner incentivized losing, that owner should immediately be forced to sell.
We’ll see whether the NFL does the right thing. Or whether it does the predictable thing.