On Tuesday, the NFL properly suspended Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for tampering but chose not to take action against him for tanking.
As one league source poetically described the reaction, “Ross is going apeshit.”
Ross also has issued a statement that, frankly, contains some fairly clear flaws. His words appear below.
“The independent investigation cleared our organization on any issues related to tanking and all of Brian Flores other allegations,” Ross said. “As I have said all along, these allegations were false, malicious and defamatory, and this issue is now put to rest. With regards to tampering, I strongly disagree with the conclusions and the punishment. However, I will accept the outcome because the most important thing is that there be no distractions for our team as we begin an exciting and winning season. I will not allow anything to get in the way of that.”
The fact that he wanted Sean Payton and Tom Brady over Mike McDaniel and Tua Tagovailoa, respectively, necessarily gets in the way of any excitement for the Plan B options that Ross ended up with. More importantly, Ross is pushing alternative facts in other portions of the statement.
First, the investigation did not clear Ross and the team on the other allegations made by Brian Flores; he claimed that he was recruited to participate in efforts to tamper with an unnamed quarterback, which was widely known to be Brady. The tampering fine legitimizes the claim made by Flores.
Second, Ross and the organization were hardly “cleared” on the tanking issue. The investigation found that Ross, on a number of occasions during the 2019 season, “expressed his belief that the Dolphins’ position in the upcoming 2020 draft should take priority over the team’s win-loss record,” and that comments of this type “were made most frequently to Team President and CEO Tom Garfinkel, but were also made to General Manager Chris Grier, Senior Vice President Brandon Shore and Coach Flores.”
“An owner or senior executive must understand the weight that his or her words carry, and the risk that a comment will be taken seriously and acted upon, even if that is not the intent or expectation,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a Tuesday statement. “Even if made in jest and not intended to be taken seriously, comments suggesting that draft position is more important than winning can be misunderstood and carry with them an unnecessary potential risk to the integrity of the game.”
It’s sort of amazing that the league didn’t find Ross guilty of attempted tanking, or something along those lines. That’s clearly what he was doing. And by resisting the desires of the oligarch who owns the team, Flores saved the ass of his boss while also signing his own eventual termination slip.
But the NFL couldn’t afford to punish Ross for tanking, because the NFL is still defending the wrongful discharge claim brought by Flores against the Dolphins, along with other claims against the Dolphins and other teams. (Also, in an age of legalized wagering, any suggestion of an effort to not win games would trigger legislative, administrative, and/or judicial scrutiny.) So the league, while acknowledging that Ross engaged in behavior that should have resulted in punishment, simply decided not to punish him, at least not for tanking.
It’s fair to wonder whether he was punished for tampering simply because the league felt compelled to punish him for something.
Regardless, on a day that Ross is supposedly going apeshit, we’ll choose to regard the self-serving contents of his statement as bullshit.