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Stephen Ross fires back at “false, malicious and defamatory” allegations made by Brian Flores

As the contention that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered former Dolphins coach Brian Flores $100,000 for each game lost in 2019 continues to gather momentum -- and as their potential implications continue to become more clear -- Ross has fired back.

In a statement issued late Wednesday night, Ross attacks the allegations as “false, malicious and defamatory.”

“I am a man or honor and integrity and cannot let [the allegations] stand without responding,” Ross said. “I take great personal exception to these malicious attacks, and the truth must be known. His allegations are false, malicious and defamatory. We understand there are media reports stating that the NFL intends to investigate his claims, and we will cooperate fully. I welcome that investigation and I am eager to defend my personal integrity, and the integrity and values of the entire Miami Dolphins organization, from these baseless, unfair and disparaging claims.”

The statement from Ross does not address the fact that NFL Network -- a media outlet Ross partially owned -- reported on Wednesday that an unnamed witness corroborated Flores’s claim of money-for-losing. If Ross believes Flores’s allegations are false, malicious, and defamatory, he necessarily believes that NFL Network published the false, malicious, and defamatory account from an unnamed person who contends to have heard Ross make the offer to Flores.

The strong language of the statement suggests that Ross could also take legal action against Flores, alleging defamation of character. Because Ross is a public figure, the standard for proving defamation necessarily will be higher, requiring proof of actual malice. More immediately, the statements made by Flores possibly will prompt Ross to stop making ongoing salary payments to Flores under the terms of his contract, given that coaching agreements typically contain language prohibiting the coach from making disparaging statements about the team, its owner, etc. For this reason, coaches who have an axe to grind routinely wait until their buyout has been fully paid before saying anything at all, publicly or privately, about their former employers.

Regardless, the statement underscores the fact that the NFL and the Dolphins intend to fight back aggressively against the man who, as of 24 days ago, had finished the 2021 season by winning eight of nine games. It will be contentious, it will be protracted, and it will involve not only allegations of racial bias but also an incredibly high-stakes (for Ross) question of whether he indeed made that offer.