The Washington Post
The NFL preseason has begun, and so, too, have the political spats related to it. This time, itâ€™s President Donald Trump and a donor of his who are taking the heat, with the left end of the political spectrum threatening financial consequences.
The Washington Postâ€™s Michelle Ye Hee Lee reported that billionaire Stephen Rossâ€™s upcoming fundraiser for Trump in the Hamptons put him under heavy criticism Wednesday from celebrities and activists, who are calling for boycotts of the fitness brands heâ€™s affiliated with.
In a tweet, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills, who has previously criticized Trump for his comments related to race matters, said it was inconsistent for Ross to support Trump while running the nonprofit Ross Initiative for Sports Equality, whose mission statement says it aims to end racial discrimination in sports.
â€śYou canâ€™t have a non profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump,â€ť Stills tweeted.
Stills took a knee during the playing of the national anthem throughout the 2018 season, even as other players had relented (and criticism continued). National Football League players have repeatedly said the purpose of their kneeling is to protest police violence and racism in America. Trump and others have harshly criticized the protest as unpatriotic.
While campaigning for a Republican Senate candidate in Alabama in 2017, Trump suggested that NFL owners fire players who chose to protest at games. The protests had begun a season before, sparking controversy and political comment at the time, but the issue seemed to simmer down between seasons. Trump brought it back to the forefront of the national conversation with his remarks. More players began to kneel, and the debate over it became ever more divisive.
Trump continued to attack the NFL for allowing athletes to protest, pressuring his supporters to stop watching games while calling on team owners to discipline athletes who protested. And eventually the NFL adopted a policy in 2018 that required all NFL personnel on the field during pregame renditions of the national anthem to â€śstand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.â€ť (It does allow players who do not want to stand to remain in the locker room, until the playing of the â€śThe Star-Spangled Bannerâ€ť is over.)
To Stills, supporting Trump apparently brings Rossâ€™s commitment to fighting for racial equality into question.
The outrage came swiftly on social media after news broke of Rossâ€™s fundraiser for Trump.
Ross said in a statement that he has known Trump for 40 years, and he cited the economy and job creation as his reason for â€śengagement with our leaders.â€ť
â€śI have been, and will continue to be, an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability,â€ť Ross said.
That, however, was not sufficient for critics.
While Ross suggested that his interest in a growing economy as a reason for his support of Trump, he didnâ€™t identify the issues on which he and Trump disagree. If Ross hoped to avoid a controversy, his timing couldnâ€™t have been worse: This week has brought extra scrutiny to Trumpâ€™s rhetoric, following the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in which the alleged shooter is believed to have posted a screed incorporating some language that mirrors rhetoric used by Trump.
Trump and his surrogates have made it clear that the foundation of his reelection campaign - which Ross is helping fund - will be by playing to his base, including by using racially divisive rhetoric. That strategy is unconscionable to those in resistance to Trump, which has been frequently willing to call for kneecapping those who support him or his policies.
Ross, in his capacity as an NFL owner, saw how Trump thought it effective ask his backers to use the power of the purse to make their political point. His willingness to support is testing whether Trump opponents will do the same.