News

John Elway ’83 named in lawsuit alleging racism in the NFL

Feb. 1, 2022, 10:10 p.m.

John Elway ’83, the legendary Stanford quarterback and current president of operations for the Denver Broncos, was named in a lawsuit Tuesday that alleges racism in the hiring of Black coaches across the National Football League.

Elway’s Broncos are among three teams singled out by the lawsuit, which was filed by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. The lawsuit alleges that Flores, who is Black, faced discrimination while applying for head coaching positions before and after a three-year stint as the Dolphins’ head coach from 2019 to 2021. 

Flores was fired by the Dolphins in January and was passed over for an open head coaching position by the New York Giants shortly afterward. Before he was hired by Miami in 2019, Flores interviewed with Elway to be the head coach of the Denver Broncos.

Both Flores’ interviews with the Giants in 2022 and the Broncos in 2019 were “sham” interviews, the lawsuit alleges, conducted after the teams had already decided on white head coaches only to comply with the Rooney Rule: a 2003 NFL mandate that teams interview at least one “diverse” candidate during a head coaching search. 

Elway, then the general manager of the Broncos and responsible for the hiring of coaching staff, arrived an hour late to Flores’ interview in 2019 and looked “completely disheveled,” the lawsuit claims. Elway and the other Broncos leadership present appeared to have been drinking heavily the night before, the lawsuit alleges, and “from the substance of the interview” they did not intend to consider Flores seriously for the job.

Elway ultimately hired Vic Fangio to serve as head coach, who was fired after three seasons in January. Fangio was previously Stanford’s defensive coordinator in 2010, before following Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers in 2011.

The Broncos organization, along with the NFL and the other teams named in the lawsuit, denied the allegations in statements Tuesday.

“Pages of detailed notes, analysis and evaluations from our interview demonstrate the depth of our conversation and sincere interest in Mr. Flores as a head coaching candidate,” the Broncos’ statement said.

Elway also personally denied the allegations in a statement Thursday.

“I took Coach Flores very seriously as a candidate for our head coaching position in 2019 and enjoyed our three-and-a-half hour interview with him,” Elway said.

“If I appeared ‘disheveled’, as he claimed, it was because we had flown in during the middle of the night — immediately following another interview in Denver — and were going on a few hours of sleep to meet the only window provided to us,” he added.

Elway, who stepped down as the Broncos’ general manager to become the president of the organization in 2021, was a consensus All-American quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up during his four-year career at Stanford. Elway, a two time Super Bowl champion with the Broncos, is also a member of the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame, College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

This article has been updated to include a statement from John Elway released on Thursday.

Daniel Wu '21 is a Senior Staff Writer for News and Staff Writer for Sports. Contact him at dwu21 'at' stanford.edu

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