Trump-supporting Equinox owner wants to have it both ways

Stephen Ross pays lip service to social justice, but his fundraising supports Trump’s hate-mongering

Stephen M. Ross at a speaking engagement in May. CREDIT: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images
Stephen M. Ross at a speaking engagement in May. CREDIT: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Plutocrat sports franchise owner and exercise chain investor Stephen Ross is offering Americans their latest reminder that the nation’s ownership class cares more about their money than their morals.

Ross is under fire for his decision to continue raising money for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. Members of the gyms he owns are planning boycotts. At least one star player for his Miami Dolphins is airing him out publicly for hypocrisy.

All the while, Ross has maintained he is deeply committed to social justice values.

“I have been, and will continue to be, an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, [and] diversity,” Ross said in a statement to the CBS affiliate in Miami. “I have known Donald Trump for 40 years, and while we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions.”


Ross’s net worth is well north of $7 billion, according to published estimates. Besides the NFL franchise and controlling stakes in both Kanye West’s beloved Equinox gym franchise and the trendy, high-end SoulCycle chain, Ross also holds several million dollars of Trump’s corporate debts.

His firm also played a signal role in developing the Hudson Yards project in New York City, which infamously preyed upon an urban-renewal development program that was supposed to shovel money into refurbishing long-neglected neighborhoods.

Ross’ financial backing of Trump’s electoral ambitions did not pose a major threat to his business interests until this week, however. Despite the president’s irresponsible and inciting rhetorical attacks on immigrants, Democratic Party leaders from high-poverty districts, and other perceived political enemies, Ross has seen fit to stick by a man obviously opposed to the inclusive and diverse values the billionaire claims to hold.

The dam broke this week after a man with an assault rifle killed 22 people and grievously injured dozens more at an El Paso Walmart. The suspect, who has confessed, wrote before the attack that he believed, like the president, that an “invasion” of Latinx migrants is ruining the country.

On Wednesday, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills blasted his boss’s decision to hold a Trump fundraiser. “You can’t have a non profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump,” Stills tweeted, linking to the website for the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality.


Days later, members of Ross’ celebrity-laden West Hollywood Equinox facility announced a formal boycott effort ahead of the Friday fundraiser at his mansion in the Hamptons.

Ross’ belief that he can simultaneously support and befriend a man like Trump and count himself a crusader for social equality is nothing particularly new. Hyper-wealthy people have always tried to have it both ways on this stuff. Their interest in favorable tax treatment and lucrative development opportunities subsidized by taxpayers has traditionally meant that rich people who disdain the retrograde aspects of Republican Party cultural doctrine nonetheless write checks to the GOP.

There are outliers from this pattern of placing financial self-interest over the wider social welfare, however. A group called Patriotic Millionaires recently barnstormed the country demanding progressive income and investment tax policies that would hurt their bottom lines but furnish new resources to help less-fortunate citizens.

The sort of intellectual consistency some of Ross’ customers and employees are demanding of him by protesting his allegiance to Trump is not hard to achieve. It’s a simple matter of will, and of philosophy.

But Ross is deeply entrenched in the same sub-category of richness from which Trump springs. As the Hudson Yards boondoggle illustrates, large-scale developers tend to be a different breed from the sort of people who’ve joined the Patriotic Millionaires brigade. Their taxpayer-assisted projects shift not just wealth, but public space, from those who have little to those who are already quite comfortable.

People who enrich themselves by making those sorts of deals can open all the nonprofit social-good organizations they want. But their core economic activity — and the displacement and inequality that activity promotes — suggests that organizations like RISE are little more than a way of soothing guilty consciences.