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Dolphins receiver says Stephen Ross wants to ‘play both sides’ on Trump and social justice

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills kneels during the national anthem before the team's preseason game on Thursday. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills stood by his criticism of team owner Stephen Ross’s support for President Trump’s reelection campaign, telling reporters after a preseason game Thursday night, “If you’re going to associate yourself with bad people, then people are going to know about it.”

Ross, a billionaire real estate developer whose company owns fitness brands SoulCycle and Equinox, is set to hold a fundraiser for the president at his Southampton, N.Y., mansion, where the price of admission ranges from $5,600 to $250,000, according to invitations obtained by The Washington Post. The costliest tickets offer greater access to Trump.

Stills in a tweet on Wednesday said Ross’s support for Trump and for his own social justice nonprofit, the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, were incongruous. RISE in its mission statement says it aims to “eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations.”

“You can’t have a non profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump,” Stills wrote.

On Thursday, Stills doubled down on that argument.

“Someone has to have enough courage to let him know he can’t play both sides of this,” he said, via ESPN. “It’s something that I can look back on and say I made the right decision. Maybe I shouldn’t have done it on social media, but I did. If you’re going to associate yourself with bad people, then people are going to know about it. I put it out there for everybody to see it.

“If you say you’re going to be about something, let’s be about it.”

Ross in a Wednesday statement said he has been friends with Trump for 40 years and that while the two agree on certain issues, “we strongly disagree on many others.”

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“I’ve always been an active participant in the democratic process,” Ross said in the statement. “While some prefer to sit outside of the process and criticize, I prefer to engage directly and support the things I deeply care about.

“I have been, and will continue to be, an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability, and I have and will continue to support leaders on both sides of the aisle to address these challenges.”

Stills said he and Ross have not spoken since his tweet, but insisted, “I don’t have any hard feelings toward him.” He said he has received close to a dozen death threats in the past several days.

The NFL Players Association on Wednesday backed Stills, saying, “Few have done more for their community than Kenny.”

Stills, an ally of former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, has protested racial injustice and economic inequality by kneeling during the national anthem the past three seasons. He told the Palm Beach Post this week he plans to continue his demonstration this season. He knelt during the anthem Thursday night.

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In 2018, the Dolphins franchise informed the NFL that it would classify any sort of demonstration during the anthem as “conduct detrimental to the club,” a designation that would have enabled the team to impose significant penalties. The team never implemented the policy after the NFL and players’ union agreed to indefinitely suspend the league’s new policy governing behavior during the anthem.

First-year Dolphins coach Brian Flores said Thursday that he asked Stills why he never spoke directly with Ross before criticizing him publicly.

“That’s something we have to do more of, more communication, more conversation, if we want to make change,” Flores said. “I wish he would have done that. I told him that.”

Earlier this week, the receiver told the Palm Beach Post he’d be open to speaking with an Ohio elected official who blamed NFL players kneeling during the anthem (along with gay people, video games, “drag queen advocates,” Democrats, marijuana and “the culture”) for recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.

Stills said Thursday he considered his remarks about Ross and activism “God’s work,” and that he was not concerned about potential punishment from the league or his team.

“It’s not about politics,” he told reporters. “It’s never been about politics. It’s about the human being.”

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