Dolphins’ Stephen Ross, hosting Donald Trump fundraiser, is hypocrite
Stephen M. Ross, who owns the Miami Dolphins, had no trouble banning his players from kneeling during the national anthem last fall. You know, because sports and politics don’t mix.
But he sure didn’t like it this week when folks tore into him after news spread he would be hosting a fundraiser for President Donald Trump. You know, because sports and politics do mix.
As long as it’s your politics.
Hypocrisy aside, Ross, who made a fortune in real estate and whose name adorns the business school at the University of Michigan, has every right to support whatever politician he wants. He also has the right to tell the NFL players on his team that they can’t kneel during the anthem.
He also has the right to look like an insensitive and tone-deaf opportunist. Which is exactly what he is.
Or, he just doesn’t care.
It’s fine if he wants to support the president’s financial policies. But as a man who funds a nonprofit called “Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality,” whose mission statement highlights diversity and acceptance, mingling with Trump this week — in the wake of his stunted response to mass shootings — isn’t a good look.
And folks employed by his team and several other companies he invests in took notice. Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills immediately took to Twitter:
“You can’t have a non-profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump,” Stills tweeted.
Superstar chef David Chang, who created Momofuku, a restaurant owned in part by Ross, was more blunt in his podcast Thursday:
“Anyone that normalizes gun violence, white supremacy, putting kids into cages, his general lack of decency and respect for anyone else — he is destroying our democratic norms. I cannot stand behind him,” Chang said.
Harbaugh’s poor timing
The backlash was so intense that high-end fitness companies Equinox Fitness and SoulCycle issued statements distancing themselves from Ross after a handful of LGBTQ activists and celebrities called for a boycott and demanded Ross back out of the fundraiser.
Into this cauldron stepped Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, perhaps unwittingly, as he tweeted Thursday that Ross was a “Great Michigan Man!”
Harbaugh wasn’t speaking to the fundraiser or Ross’ business interests. He was congratulating him on making the National Football Foundation Leadership Hall of Fame — the announcement of his induction came Thursday.
Still, his timing was poor.
Harbaugh has occasionally collided with politics. He attended a Hillary Clinton rally in Ann Arbor in 2016. A year later, he supported his players’ right to protest during the national anthem. “I respect their right to kneel,” he said.
These days, it’s hard to avoid the collision between the two worlds. And when his tweet about Ross hit the internet early Thursday, many fans of his team and the program urged him to consider the timing.
No doubt Harbaugh thought he was tweeting into a vacuum, giving an attaboy to an important figure at Michigan who had just been honored. But the biggest donor in school history, who has given millions to the athletic program, didn’t just make any Hall of Fame.
He made the leadership Hall of Fame. And leaders are supposed to understand nuance and timing. Ross showed neither this week. In a statement to the Washington Post on Wednesday, Ross said he has known Trump for 40 years and that he has “never been bashful about expressing” opinions about issues on which he disagrees with Trump.
He also told the Post that he is “an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability, and I have and will continue to support leaders on both sides of the aisle to address these challenges.”
Maybe you don’t care that Ross’ support of Trump angered LGBTQ activists and celebrity chefs. Maybe you don’t care that in a league where 70 percent of the players are black, most of them feel — at best — uncomfortable with Trump’s language.
But Ross should. And he doesn’t. He cares about tax breaks and policies that benefit his companies and his empire, which is why he intends to hold the fundraiser.
That’s his choice. Just as it’s the choice of those who work for him to call him out for hypocrisy.
If Ross truly wanted to keep politics out of sports, he should try starting with himself.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.