On Thursday, the Miami Dolphins announced that any players who kneel during the National Anthem could be suspended for up to four games. This makes the Dolphins the first team in the NFL with a reported policy that could punish player. According to the NFL Network, however, the Dolphins policy is still a work in progress, and will remain so until team owner Stephen M. Ross decides how to handle protests during the national anthem.
Ross, who’s owned 50% of the Dolphins since 2008, has had a complicated relationship with President Donald Trump. “Initially, I totally supported the players in what they were doing,” Ross told the NY Daily Times. But recently, he’s said that he likes Trump, and feels that the president’s tweets have turned the protests into a larger debate about respecting the flag.
Here’s what you need to know about Stephen Ross and Donald Trump:
1. Ross & Trump Were Business Partners In the USFL During the 1980s
Both Ross and Trump were investors in the USFL during the 1980s, an ill-fated league that was meant to compete with the NFL during the spring. Ross, a at the time, wanted to be a USFL owner, and he purchased the Houston Gamblers, which were led by future Bills quarterback Jim Kelly. Ross wanted to relocate the team to New York, but Trump, who had invested in, owned the territorial rights and refused his offer.
According to Crain’s Detroit Business, Ross worked out a deal that merged the Gamblers and the Generals and made him co-owners with Trump. The newly minted team would play at the Meadowlands in 1986, but the USFL suspended play before the season started, and the league was completely disbanded by the following year.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Ross praised Trump as “probably the world’s greatest promoter.” He did, however, express concerns about Trump’s presidential run. “I respect Trump, but I don’t really see him as president of the United States,” he said. “I don’t think he’s in a position to run the United States of America.”
2. Ross Initially Criticized Trump’s Handling of the National Anthem Protests
When NFL players began to take a knee during the National Anthem, Ross was one of the team owners who fully supported them. After Trump called anyone who protests during the national anthem a “son of a b**ch” on Twitter, Ross prepared a statement that criticized the President’s divisive leadership.
“Our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness,” he wrote. “We need to seek to understand each other and have civil discourse instead of condemnation and sound bites. I know our players who kneeled for the anthem and these are smart young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone. They wanted to start a conversation and are making a difference in our community, including working with law enforcement to bring people together.”
Ross continued: “We all can benefit from learning, listening and respecting each other. Sports is a common denominator in our world. We all have the responsibility to use this platform to promote understanding, respect and equality.”
Bleacher Reports states that a meeting with ownership and a group of players was organized in 2017, and that Ross was one of the owners in attendance. An unidentified player was quoted as saying: “this meeting is going on because the players think that some of the people that they work for are with [Trump’s] overall agenda, and that’s not in the players’ favor.” Ross’ response: “I’m not with Trump. And I don’t mind anyone printing that anywhere.”
3. Ross Feels That Trump ‘Changed the Narrative’ of the NFL Protests
Despite his initial support, Ross announced that he would be banning all protests by Dolphins players. “All of our players will be standing,” he told Ny Daily News, “Initially, I totally supported the players in what they were doing. It’s America and people should be able to really speak about their choices.” Ross said that his feelings changed when he felt the message being sent by players was a protest against “support of our country or the military.”
The owner then went on to credit President Trump with making that message clear to him. “I like Donald,” he said. “I don’t support everything that he says. Overall, I think he was trying to make a point, and his message became what kneeling was all about. From that standpoint, that is the way the public is interpreting it. So I think that’s really incumbent upon us to adopt that. That’s how, I think, the country now is interpreting the kneeling issue.”
Ross said he’s still in communication with Trump, and said that he is “concentrated on making the country better.”
4. Ross’ Comments Landed Him on Colin Kaepernick’s Deposition List
After Ross’ controversial comments, Colin Kaepernick’s lawyer announced that Ross had been added to the player’s deposition list for grievances against the NFL. The deposition list, according to Yahoo! Sports, is attempting to establish a connection between Kaepernick’s NFL unemployment and comments Trump has made about his career as well as player protests in general. Other owners who have been added to the deposition list include Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and Bob McNair of the Houston Texans.
Shortly after he was subpoenaed to testify in the Kaepernick Ross released a statement claiming that his remarks were “misconstrued.”
“I have no intention of forcing our players to stand during the national anthem, and I regret my comments have been misconstrued,” he told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I’ve shared my opinion with all our players: I’m passionate about the cause of social justice and I feel that kneeling is an ineffective tactic that alienates more people than it enlists.”
“I know our players care about the military and law enforcement too because I’ve seen the same players who are fighting for social justice engaging positively with law enforcement and the military,” he continued. “I care passionately that the message of social justice resonates far and wide, and I will continue to support and fund efforts for those who fight for equality for all.”
5. Trump Told NFL Owners That They ‘Wouldn’t Win’ With Protests
According to testimony given during the Kaepernick deposition, President Trump went to great lengths to ensure that the NFL owners would end up on his side of the debate. “This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” he allegedly told Jerry Jones. “Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.” Jones then relayed the conversation during a meeting of owners as they debated how to handle the protests. Ross said he was only one of the many owners who were swayed.
“I thought he changed the dialogue,” he told The Wall Street Journal.” Ross also said that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had been influenced by Trump’s comments. “The optics of ownership feeling pressured to make a political decision — I don’t think that’s where any owner or league wants to be,” said Gabriel Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University Law School. “But these are interesting times.”