UM donor Stephen Ross chided by player, businesses for Trump fundraiser

Nick Turner

Stephen Ross, the billionaire owner of the Miami Dolphins and an investor in Equinox gyms and SoulCycle, is drawing flak for hosting a Donald Trump fundraiser.

Stephen M. Ross

SoulCycle Chief Executive Officer Melanie Whelan sought to distance the company from Ross as calls for boycotts spread on social media. The furor was over a reported fundraiser to be hosted by Ross in the Hamptons – where attendees will pay $250,000 for lunch, a photo and private roundtable discussion.

“We believe in diversity, inclusion and equality,” Whelan said on Twitter. “Mr. Ross is a passive investor and is not involved in the management of SoulCycle.” Equinox issued a similar statement.

Neither Related Cos., the New York real estate firm where Ross is chairman, nor the Dolphins immediately responded to requests for comment.

Kenny Stills, a receiver for the Dolphins, said on Twitter that the reported fundraiser in the Hamptons was inconsistent with efforts to fight racial inequality. The billionaire has a nonprofit called the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality with a mission of championing social justice and improving race relations.

Ross was not one of the nine NFL owners that reportedly contributed to Trump’s original campaign, or his inauguration. America’s richest sports league has often been at odds with the President, including a high-profile row in 2017 over the league’s handling of players who chose to protest during the national anthem.

In this Dec. 9, 2018, file photo, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills (10) stands along the sideline during the first half of the team's NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Miami Gardens, Fla.

The Trump event, reported in the Washington Post, also prompted a backlash against Equinox, with comedian and actor Billy Eichner among those who said they were canceling their Equinox memberships.

“There are a handful of billionaires who own everything and many support Trump,” he said on Twitter. “Practically speaking, it’s probably impossible to completely avoid them. But considering Equinox’s clientele and how they’ve pandered to us, this one feels particularly hypocritical and shameful.”

Ross was born in Detroit and is the single largest donor to the University of Michigan. He has given $378 million to the school over the years, including $50 million in 2017 to support student projects and faculty recruitment.