Yes, it’s that Stephen Ross.
The billionaire real estate developer, for whom the school’s athletic campus and business school are named, landed in national headlines this week with the news that his Hamptons home would be the site of a fundraiser for President Trump’s reelection campaign, with a price tag as high as $250,000 for an audience with Trump. There were calls to boycott his businesses, which include the popular posh fitness brands SoulCycle and Equinox, as well as the Miami Dolphins.
Ross, 78, graduated from Michigan’s business school in 1962. The Detroit native has donated $378 million to the university.
News of the fundraiser caught the attention of a Dolphins player who has been critical of Trump and who has knelt during the national anthem to raise awareness of police brutality and social injustice. Wide receiver Kenny Stills tweeted a photo of the mission statement for the nonprofit Ross Initiative for Sports Equality, questioning how the franchise owner could be committed to eliminating racial discrimination and championing social justice reforms, as the group’s statement proclaims, while supporting Trump.
“You can’t have a non profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump,” wrote Stills, who plans to continue to kneel this season.
In a statement Wednesday to The Washington Post, Ross described himself as “an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability” and said he has “never been bashful about expressing” opinions about issues on which he disagrees with Trump.
Harbaugh has occasionally spoken out about social issues in recent years. When violence in Charlottesville claimed the life of one woman and injured others, he tweeted that “anyone who demonstrates through violence, terror or intimidation are embarrassments to our country and are truly disrespectful to our flag.”
He has also defended Colin Kaepernick, his quarterback when the San Francisco 49ers advanced to Super Bowl XLVII, and supported his bid to return to the NFL. In August 2016, Harbaugh spoke up when Kaepernick first became a lightning rod over his own demonstrations during the national anthem.
“I acknowledge his right to do it,” Harbaugh initially told reporters, “but I don’t respect the motivation or the action.” He later clarified that.
“I apologize for misspeaking my true sentiments,” he tweeted. “To clarify, I support Colin’s motivation. It’s his method of action that I take exception to.”
After the 2016 election, Harbaugh, who, like the president, knows how to dominate a news cycle, pointed out a trait that he especially admired in Trump, who narrowly won Michigan. “The thing I like about Donald Trump is he’s not afraid to fight the establishment,” Harbaugh said.
His tweet about Ross drew a strong response, with some suggesting it was politicizing Michigan fandom.
“Hate to see this at this time. We should be able to love Michigan football without making it part of the political debate,” one user wrote. “It was the one place we could come together. Disappointed in your judgment here. Hope you do better against [Ohio State].”
The NFF’s Leadership Hall of Fame helps raise money for the group’s programming, which includes “scholarships, programs and outreach initiatives that emphasize the value of football to society,” the organization said in a release. Several other key NFL figures, including Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, have received the same honor in recent years.
Ross’s “remarkable leadership skills and ability to inspire others represent the same set of traits learned on the football field,” NFF Chairman Archie Manning said in a statement, adding that the Dolphins owner “clearly has defined himself as a leader whose life deserves to be emulated.”
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