TAMPA, Fla. — Kenny Stills had no intention of apologizing.
Stephen Ross remains resolute.
And, in the end, the phone call Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores ultimately wanted both parties to have lasted “less than five minutes.”
“I think this is where I agree with what Ross is saying: You can agree to disagree with people,” Stills told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday, referring to the conversation he had with the team’s owner “a couple days ago.”
“But in our conversation, he thought he could play both sides and I thought that he couldn’t. And that was it. No hard feelings.”
Stills recently drew criticism and praise for calling out his employer on Twitter for hosting a fundraiser at his home in The Hamptons for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. Tickets for Ross’ Long Island fundraiser reportedly ranged from $100,000 for a photo opportunity and lunch to a $250,000 package, which included a private roundtable discussion with the president. (According to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, Trump raised $12 million thanks to Ross’ fundraiser and another high-priced Hamptons event.)
With one tweet, Stills highlighted the hypocrisy of Ross’ two agendas: eradicating racial discrimination and improving race relations through his nonprofit the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) while simultaneously funding an agent of racial and ethnic division in America.
Though politics and sports have historically been intertwined, the convergence of these two arenas reached a fever pitch in recent years with NFL players and other athletes kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a form of peaceful protest against systematic racism, police brutality and social injustice. Two years ago, Trump called the kneeling NFL players “sons of bitches” and said if they were unwilling to stand for the national anthem they “shouldn’t be in the country.”
Stills’ condemnation of Ross trying to “play both sides” also forced Flores, whose parents are from Honduras, to address an issue of societal importance, while straddling the company line. And Flores had to do so in the midst of running his first training camp as a head coach. But if anything, last week’s firestorm in Miami was another example of the agency NFL players have, the power and reach of their voices, and their ability to publicly hold team owners accountable for all of the choices they make.
As well-intentioned as some NFL owners might be, they are billionaires and business people at their core, and oftentimes a majority have been guided by self-interests that protect their financial bottom line.
“I think my goal is just to inform people as a whole — not just Stephen Ross, but people as a whole that you can’t really have it both ways,” Stills said, as he walked off the indoor practice field following a joint training-camp session with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
“At some point, we all have to draw a line in the sand when it comes to associating ourselves and funding campaigns for people that are inciting violence and hate and evil,” added Stills, who made it clear he wants to remain with the Dolphins organization. “So it was important to me to let people know that it’s not about politics, it’s not about really choosing sides — Republican, Democrat, whatever — it’s really just about good human beings and bad human beings and the place that we’re in as a country and the bad example that we’re setting for the rest of the world.”
Stills is no stranger to speaking his mind and being an activist in his South Florida community. The receiver’s charitable efforts in disadvantaged neighborhoods and ride-alongs with police officers are well known locally. He also has received deaths threats in the past for kneeling during the national anthem (a peaceful protest he plans to continue this season).
His mission is to be a unifying force for the betterment of society. And that often means calling on others to be accountable for their actions.
Even an employer.
Last Wednesday, Stills tweeted a screenshot from RISE’s website with the caption: “You can’t have a non profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump.”
There was a purpose behind his tweet, Stills said. But the question of whether it bridged the philosophical gap between his and Ross is another matter.
Stills said he sent the owner a text message “a couple days ago” and Ross called him. After a few minutes, the two hung up — with neither side changing his position.
Stills and Ross remain rooted in their fundamental beliefs, while Flores found himself caught between a rock and a hard place in his first year on the job of rebuilding a downtrodden Dolphins franchise.
The controversy also highlighted the optics of a minority head coach caught in the middle of a player and owner on opposite ends of a polarizing issue. Flores — one of only four head coach of color among 32 teams — said last week that he understood and respected Stills’ mission and desire to use his platform to effect change, but he also felt the receiver should have spoken to Ross privately “before putting something out there.” The coach added: “That's something we have to do more of, more communication, more conversation, if we want to make change. I wish he would have done that. I told him that.”
Asked about Flores’ comments, Stills replied: “What I’ll say about Coach Flores is that, I think from a professional matter, he’s correct. It’s like, hey, the best way to handle that would have been to reach out and talk to him personally. But he also didn’t understand, being that Coach Flores just got here, the relationship and all of the other conversations that Ross and I have had.”
Following the Dolphins’ preseason win over Atlanta, Stills disclosed that a “gut feel” led him to step away from his involvement with the RISE foundation. On Tuesday, he reiterated there’s no “beef” between he and Ross.
The receiver also made it clear that his decision to reach out to Ross wasn’t about clearing the air or apologizing.
“I think it’s just the right thing to do,” Stills said, before boarding the team bus. “To have a conversation and just let each other know. ‘Cause I think some people might take it the wrong way, like, I don’t want to play for the Dolphins anymore. And I do.”
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