Media Gives Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross a Pass and Hangs Kenny Stills Out to Dry

Stephen Ross
Stephen Ross Miami Dolphins
The most in-depth story done so far by local media about Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills' calling out his team's owner, Stephen Ross, for political hypocrisy came from a local sports columnist.

And it was one of the most pathetic examples of political commentary in memory.

But before we get into that, let's examine the controversy. Ross is a billionaire real-estate mogul who owns the Dolphins and started an organization he calls the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE). In Ross' mission statement for the group, he portrays it as the second coming of Martin Luther King Jr. The mission statement claims RISE is a "champion" for "social justice" and "improved race relations."

"If we could eliminate racial discrimination, we'd be so much greater as a nation...," Ross says in a video message on the RISE website. "I can either bury my head in the sand or I can do something... to create change, to eliminate the racial discrimination that does exist in our country."

That's beautiful stuff. But while Ross claims to be a fighter for social justice and equality, behind the scenes he's supporting — and helping to finance — the campaign of Donald Trump, who championed the birther movement claiming Barack Obama was born in Kenya; scapegoats Latino immigrants as rapists and criminals at every turn and claims they are "invading" America; calls African countries "shitholes"; called a predominantly black district in Baltimore "infested" while attacking a black congressman; is separating Hispanic children from their families at the border and in ICE raids; announced he would ban all Muslims from entering the country; spews rhetoric that's fueling a rise (no pun intended) in white-nationalist terrorism; told four minority congresswomen to "go back" to their own countries even though all four are U.S. citizens and three were born in the United States; and laughed when a supporter at one of his rallies suggested ICE agents simply shoot immigrants.

Does any of this sound like it's in line with a man like Ross who claims to be a champion of social justice and racial equality? Of course not. It's in complete contradiction to that. Yet today, for Trump, Ross is throwing a high-dollar fundraiser (a quarter-mil will buy you the best seat) at his mansion in the Hamptons that is expected to provide Trump with millions more to continue sharing his divisive and demagogic message.

No wonder Stills, who's truly a fighter for social justice, called out the rank hypocrisy of Ross and RISE. The fact that the team's starting receiver criticized the man who signs his paycheck only makes it more meaningful and courageous. Stills has skin in this game.
Kenny Stills (left) kneels during the National Anthem in silent protest of racial injustice. - MICHELE EVE SANDBERG
Kenny Stills (left) kneels during the National Anthem in silent protest of racial injustice.
Michele Eve Sandberg
While national coverage has focused on Stills' message, local media — the Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel, and TV stations — has focused almost on Stills himself, the death threats he's received, and the fact that Dolphins management isn't happy he spoke out. And the controversy has been downplayed by the newspapers; as I write this, the Herald's homepage doesn't include the story at all, while national publications such as the New York Times and Sports Illustrated do. The Herald does, however, have a slew of stories about the preseason game last night.

It takes huge guts to call out popular local teams, so it's no wonder our local mainstream publications have downplayed the story and aimed solely at messenger Stills. But it's still a journalistic sin and abrogation of duty not to report this story fully — and keep it aimed at the real culprit here, which is Ross' hypocrisy. The fact that this comes at a time when racial division is raging and just days after an anti-immigrant Trump supporter, clearly roused by the president's hate speech, gunned down 22 people in a white-nationalist terrorist attack in El Paso only makes that journalistic duty more pressing and dire.

There's been little to no local commentary from these outlets, other than an upside-down and tone-deaf sports column by the Sun Sentinel's Dave Hyde. In it, Hyde bravely praises the team owner while faulting Stills. Gotta hand it to Hyde; it's a pretty amazing act of messaging jujitsu, and all you really need to do is read the first line.

"If Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills really wanted to make a provocative statement, he should have said there's no better billionaire to bend President Trump's ear on race than team owner Steve Ross," Hyde writes.
The veteran columnist's idea is that if Stills would have counseled Ross, the billionaire could have criticized Trump to his face about how his words and policies are "agents of bigotry and racism." Presumably, he would do this while raising millions of dollars for the president at his out-of-town mansion.

Hyde is basically saying that Stills and the public should be happy with lip service from billionaires, the same kind of lip service Ross gave in the mission statement of RISE. The Sun Sentinel writer questions if the world would be better without RISE but doesn't see the fact that the damage that Trump is doing to the country dwarfs anything such a group might do. Hyde asks, "Is everyone who votes for Trump a racist? Is that the litmus test at work in politics today?"

Every person who votes for Trump might not be a racist, but they are supporting a racist candidate who is inciting more racism in the country for political gain. That's clear. And this isn't new. The right's use of racist messaging to rile up the base didn't start with Trump. It's been going on for decades and really began cooking with grease in the '70s with the help of Trump's longtime political aide, the nihilistic race-baiter Roger Stone.

We just learned that Ronald Reagan in a phone call with Richard Nixon called Africans "monkeys" and the two former U.S. presidents had a good laugh over it. And that's not the least bit surprising after Reagan's dog-whistle "welfare queens" rhetoric and Nixon's similar "Southern strategy."

The difference with Trump is he appears to be a one-trick pony when it comes to inciting racial division. It's all he's got, so he keeps going back to it over and over again, incessantly. And it's driving this country into a ditch.

Stills called out boss Ross for adding steam to that train wreck while pretending to be a civil rights champion. Stills was right. And it would be a shame if weak-kneed local media sat idly by to allow Stills to be the only one who pays for his team owner's hypocrisy. 
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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman