NFL suspends and fines Dolphins owner, strips team of two draft picks

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The NFL suspended and fined Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and stripped the team of two draft choices for violating league policies governing the integrity of the game, the league announced Tuesday.

Ross was suspended through Oct. 17 and removed from all NFL committees. He was fined $1.5 million, the league said. The Dolphins lose their first-round pick in next year’s draft and a third-round selection in 2024.

The penalties stem from the league’s investigation of allegations of tampering and tanking, which was led by Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney and chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The probe began after former Miami coach Brian Flores accused the Dolphins in his racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and teams of offering him $100,000 to lose games during the 2019 season in a bid to improve draft positioning.

Mary Jo White to lead NFL’s probe of Dolphins tanking allegations

The investigation found that the Dolphins “had impermissible communications” with quarterback Tom Brady in 2019 and 2020 while he was under contract with the New England Patriots. The team also had impermissible communications with Brady and his agent, Don Yee, during and after the 2021 season, which the quarterback spent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and with Yee in January 2022 regarding a coaching client, Sean Payton, the NFL said.

“The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement. “I know of no prior instance of a team violating the prohibition on tampering with both a head coach and star player, to the potential detriment of multiple other clubs, over a period of several years. Similarly, I know of no prior instance in which ownership was so directly involved in the violations.”

The investigation found that the Dolphins “did not intentionally lose games during the 2019 season,” the NFL said.

“Every club is expected to make a good faith effort to win every game,” Goodell said. “The integrity of the game, and public confidence in professional football, demand no less. 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.

“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. The comments made by Mr. Ross did not affect Coach Flores’ commitment to win and the Dolphins competed to win every game. Coach Flores is to be commended for not allowing any comment about the relative importance of draft position to affect his commitment to win throughout the season.”

The Dolphins released a written statement from Ross Tuesday afternoon.

“The independent investigation cleared our organization on any issues related to tanking and all of Brian Flores[’s] other allegations,” Ross said in the statement. “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.”

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