MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Kenny Stills emotionally stood his ground in the postgame locker room on Thursday, expounding upon his bewilderment at how Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross could claim a duality of hosting a fundraiser for President Donald Trump at his home and fighting for equality and against racism through his RISE foundation.
The Dolphins’ 34-27 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in their preseason opener became a footnote in comparison to Stills making a continued strong stand for what he believes in — even if it calls out his boss.
“Someone has to have enough courage to let him know he can’t play both sides of this,” Stills said Thursday night of Ross. “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,” he added.
Stills and Ross had not had a conversation as of Thursday night, but the veteran receiver said he anticipated the two talking in the future. He was clear that he wanted to remain with the Dolphins and he mentioned there was “no beef” between the two.
Dolphins coach Brian Flores also addressed Stills’ tweet Wednesday calling out the owner. Flores expressed understanding and respect for Stills’ pursuit to affect change for those who don’t have a voice or platform to do it themselves, but said he did wish Stills had done one thing differently.
“I asked him why he didn’t talk to the owner, why he didn’t talk to Steve before putting something out there,” Flores said. “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.”
— Kenny Stills (@KSTiLLS) August 7, 2019
That eventual conversation between Ross and Stills will be important in terms of what direction this story takes next. Stills is unwavering in using his voice to call out evil, and said he won’t wilt from his stance no matter who the party is — even if it’s his boss.
“The tweet doesn’t, like, put me against Mr. Ross,” Stills said. “I don’t have any hard feelings toward him. There’s no, like, beef. It’s just like, ‘Hey, these two things don’t align. And maybe somebody else hasn’t told you, but I’m letting you know.’ It’s important to me that the work that we’re doing isn’t just lip service. It’s real. Everything that I do has been real from the very beginning. And it’s going to be that way.”
Stills took questions from multiple groups of reporters after Thursday’s game wearing a T-shirt of the late Toni Morrison, a poignant African American novelist who often wrote about the pains of the African American experience in the United States. The 27-year-old looked emotionally affected by the backlash he got following his Ross/Trump comment Wednesday night.
He said he received five to 10 death threats over the previous 24 hours. Stills also received many death threats over the past few years as he protested social injustice and systematic racism by kneeling during the national anthem.
It’s important to note that Stills can never just shrug off something like that. He has continually mentioned how much the threats and negativity impact him as a human. But he promises it won’t change his stance.
Stills said it’s important for him to not be a distraction for his teammates and to focus on the game. That’s a stance he says Flores stressed to him as well over the past few days. But it has always been bigger than football for Stills, who says he is not worried about any potential punishment for his words.
“If those come, then they come. I feel like I’m doing God’s work — all the stuff that I’ve done and spoken up for and stood up for,” Stills said. “It’s not about politics. It’s never been about politics. It’s about the human being.”
Stills said he believes Ross is trying to be an ally, but Stills is starting to distance himself from the RISE foundation that he has done so much work with in the community over the past few years because of a “gut feel.”
The first part of the RISE mission statement says the foundation is “a national nonprofit that educates and empowers the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations.”
Ross has openly supported and donated to Trump’s campaign for years. In a statement issued early Wednesday evening, Ross said he has been friends with Trump for 40 years, and that while they agree on some things, “we strongly disagree on many others” and that he has never been “bashful” about expressing his opinions to the president.
“I’ve always have been an active participant in the democratic process,” Ross said. “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 was one of several players kneeling during the national anthem in September 2017 when the president suggested owners “get that son of a b—- off the field right now,” in reference to protesting players.
Stills, Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid and Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson are the three active players who protested social injustice and systematic racism in 2018 by kneeling during the anthem. Stills has been among a few players at the forefront of the NFL protest movement that Colin Kaepernick began in 2016. Stills continued his protest for the fourth consecutive season Thursday night.
The NFL Players Association said Wednesday it stood by Stills.
“As a player leader, few have done more for their community than Kenny,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “We support him, as we do all of our players, in using their platform for good.”