Those of us with lighter wallets can only imagine that when one is wealthy enough to have it all, that luxury might come with a sense of entitlement. Of expecting to have it both ways, all ways, any way the billionaire desires.
Doesn’t always work that way, of course, as Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross is being reminded.
Ross’ net worth is estimated at $7.7 billion, but he doesn’t have enough money to buy his way out of this controversy of his own design, this distraction his football team hardly needs as it prepares for the NFL season.
You still say sports and politics don’t mix? Ross just mixed them, and with combustible results.
Ross hosted a $250,000-per-person luncheon fundraiser for Donald Trump on Friday at The Hamptons in New York, raising $12 million for the president’s reelection campaign — then appeared stunned there might be a negative backlash. News website Axios.com reported Ross “freaked out” over the reaction. The New York Post reported Trump joked about the controversy during the fundraiser, saying, “Steve Ross got into a little bit of trouble this week. I said, ‘Steve, welcome to the world of politics.’”
(At the same fundraiser, reported the Post, Trump mimicked an Asian accent in mocking South Korean president Moon Jae-in and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe; praised North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un; and praised the Saudi Arabian crown prince the CIA concluded was responsible for the murder of a journalist).
Since the fundraiser there have been calls to boycott Equinox and SoulCycle, two of the fitness brands owned by New York-based The Related Companies, which Ross owns.
(One imagines there might be no such boycott threat from the future clientele of the WS New York, “Hudson Yards’ only Private Club,” which Ross and two co-founders are opening later this fall in a tony neighborhood of Manhattan).
The controversy started within Ross’ own football team, in the locker room, where Ross’ major donors’ support for Trump, whose racial rhetoric is plainly divisive, seemed at such odds with his own Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE).
The RISE (risetowin.org) mission statement: “We are a national nonprofit that educates and empowers the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve relations.”
Said Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, on Twitter: “You can’t have a non profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump.” (Quarterback Josh Rosen tweeted applause emojis).
Stills elaborated after Thursday night’s preseason game: “It doesn’t make sense to me for him to be supporting the man’s campaign who seems to be against all of the things he is trying to work towards. It doesn’t align.” Stills also said he is distancing himself from the RISE group.
Brian Flores, a rookie head coach forced to respond, could only muster that he wished Stills had kept this in-house and expressed his concerns to Ross directly.
OK, but, bottom line: Stills could not be more right.
The RISE mission is at odds with a president who has been so critical of players (such as Stills) who kneel during the national anthem, hijacking their cause for social justice and wrongly making it about the flag, about patriotism. The RISE mission is at odds with a president who told four Congresswomen of color to go back where they came from — even though all four are U.S. citizens and three were born in this country.
Ross’ fundraiser for Trump has been a major, instant credibility blow to his own RISE organization. A statement from the group’s CEO, Diahann Billings-Burford, on the group’s website Monday begins by praising Ross, then reads, “So we understand the sharp disappointment and criticism of Mr. Ross’ decision to support a fundraiser for President Trump’s re-election. While RISE will have challenges because of this decision, we are a strong organization ... that will remain mission-focused.”
Ross on Monday declined an interview request to address the fallout of his fundraiser. In an initial club statement the 79-year-old team owner explained he has known Trump for 40 years, “and while we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others. I have been, and will continue to be, an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability.”
I am not doubting that. I think Ross is a good guy. But he also is a man who evidently did not realize, or did not care, how bad the optics look here. Forget the boycotts of his businesses. Forget that in his team’s home base of Miami-Dade and Broward counties Trump lost in 2016 to Hillary Clinton by a 2-to-1 margin.
That’s just money to a man who has too much to count. I wonder more if Ross fathomed how a fundraiser for Trump might play in his own locker room? Or how embarrassing it might be to his own RISE initiative?
Does Stills still consider Ross to be an ally?
“I think he’s trying to be,” said the player, “but I don’t believe that you can play both sides.”
Ross thought he could. He was wrong.
He helped fill Trump’s campaign coffers, but at great cost to his own credibility.