Despite receiving “five to 10” death threats on social media since criticizing Stephen Ross’ decision to host a fundraiser for President Donald Trump, Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills was unwavering and unapologetic late Thursday night.
“If you’re going to associate with bad people, then people are going to know about it,” Stills told reporters after the Dolphins’ preseason game against the Falcons. “I think there’s ways you can support candidates without it being so public and without it being at your personal, private residence. I put it out there so everybody could see it.”
The Trump reelection fundraiser, with a cover charge of up to a quarter-million dollars, was planned for Friday in the Hamptons.
Since news of the event broke late Tuesday night, a growing number of people have called for the boycott of the Dolphins and other Ross ventures, including Equinox and SoulCycle.
Stills said he understands their frustration, but insisted he does not want to be released or traded (although acknowledged that it could happen).
Rather, he is simply trying to understand how Ross — who has long championed racial reconciliation and formed a national initiative to combat prejudice — can support a man who Stills believes is “against all the things that [Ross is] trying to work towards.”
Stills added: “It’s never been about politics. It’s more just about the human being. I know some people think that you don’t say those types of things to your boss but for me, it’s just a human being. If you say you’re going to be about something, let’s be about it.”
Speaking to reporters Friday morning, Trump said Ross “is a great friend of mine. He’s a very successful guy. We were competitors but friends in real estate in New York in the old days.
“He’s a great guy. He is — by the way, I think he’s probably more inclined to be a liberal, if you want to know the truth. But he likes me, he respects me. We’re doing a fundraiser there, we’re doing another fundraiser with another friend of mine. And I understand the fundraiser was totally sold out, and it’s very successful.”
Of the controversy about Ross’ fundraiser Trump said: “I think it just makes Steve much hotter. I didn’t speak to him yet. I’ll see him in a little while. The controversy makes Steve Ross hotter. He’ll figure that out in about a week.”
While Stills was disappointed by Ross’ decision to raise money for Trump’s reelection, he didn’t seem particularly surprised by it. Over the past year, he’s distance himself from Ross’ RISE initiative, “just based off of a gut feeling that I’ve had.”
When asked if he believes Ross is an ally in the fight for social justice, Stills responded: “I think he’s trying to be. But I don’t believe that you can play both sides.”
Stills decided to go public with his frustrations without first talking to Ross about it privately — which didn’t seem to sit well with Dolphins coach Brian Flores, who was asked about the family feud after Thursday night’s game.
“The one thing I said to Kenny was and I understand where Kenny is coming from,” Flores said. “He wants to be a voice. I talked to him about that a couple of weeks ago. I understand him wanting to be a voice for people who don’t have a voice. I respect that. My conversation with Kenny, I asked him why he didn’t talk to the owner, why he didn’t talk to Steve first before putting something out?
“And I think that something we have to do more of,” Flores added. “There has to be more communication, more conversation, more ... just more communication if we really want to make change. I wish he would have done that. I told him that. But, yeah, I talked to Kenny.”
Stills acknowledged Thursday that, “maybe I shouldn’t have done it on social media, on Twitter, but I did.”
And in doing so, created a far bigger story than he probably imagined. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 24 hours after the tweet, cable news was still discussing the controversy.
This isn’t the first time Stills has taken a polarizing stand. Far from. The fourth straight year, he plans to kneel during the pre-game national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial injustice, and did so Thursday.
That act of silent protest made him a pariah among many Americans, and a convenient foil for Trump, who in 2017 railed against Stills and other NFL players who kneeled, calling those who kneel a “son of a b----.”
That triggered a wave of anonymous death threats — and those threats returned this week.
“It is what it is,” Stills said. “I’ll be OK.”
Sports reporter Barry Jackson contributed to this report.