Last week, there was a social media tweet storm followed by a sprinkle of “protestors” who made a conscious decision to cancel their Equinox membership and / or stop paying for SoulCycle classes because Steve Ross – a passive investor in the aforementioned entities – hosted a fund raiser for Donald Trump at his home in Long Island.
At TQC, we respect the right of Equinox members to cancel their membership in order to keep their discretionary dollars from somebody they (apparently) disagree with politically, or for any reason for that matter. Unfortunately, for some of the protestors whose objective it was to financially impair Mr. Ross, quitting the gym won’t make a dent in his wallet. However, it could materially impact the bank balances of the employees – often young men and women of modest means - who work at Equinox.
Many Equinox employees are hardworking students working to subsidize their education or are young trainers trying to make contacts with the goal of building of a client roster to grow their book of business. It is a shame that if anybody is to bear the brunt of a cancelled gym membership, it’s going to be them.
Additionally, in our view, many of the protestors’ angst are misplaced. We have never met Steve Ross; everything we know about him we learned from indirect sources. That said, 99% of the people who canceled their gym membership have never met Steve Ross either, and know next to nothing about the man, other than that he supports Donald Trump. In this case, a better allocation of their discretionary dollars would probably go to supporting a politician that stood for what was important to them or perhaps donating the money or their time to a charitable cause of their choice.
If You Support Donald Trump, That Makes You a Morally Corrupt Person?
In our February 24th issue, we posted an article titled Where We Think Trump is Right. In it, we reminded our readers that:
“Our platform promotes civil discourse irrespective of political leanings. This, more often than not, involves highlighting and examining some uncomfortable hypocrisies. And it almost always involves rejecting overly-simplistic black-and-white binaries.”
In 2016, Donald Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by ~3 million votes. That said, ~63 million people or ~47% of people who casted a ballot, voted for Mr. Trump. There are certainly a minority of Trump supporters who are unabashedly racist, and another sub-sector of Trumpists who might harbor racist views but don’t actively promote or act on them (we would be remiss not to point out that racist views do not just apply to Trump supporters and the far right. Some Clinton supporters and current radical Democrats are racist, too). That said, to lump 63 million adult Americans who support Donald Trump, toss them (and Steve Ross) into one bucket and label them uncaring, stupid or racist etc., is ignorant and simply wrong in its own right.
At TQC, we do not support Donald Trump, but we do stand behind a few of his policies when they make sound sense. We also believe that somebody can support Trump and be a perfectly law abiding, tax paying, charitable-giving, community-building, socially-accepting, job-creating, generally decent human being, as Steve Ross appears to be. Indeed, just because somebody is a Donald Trump supporter, doesn’t necessarily make that person evil or morally corrupt. However, an argument could be made that anybody who thinks it does, is closed minded and divisive themselves.
It is better to make informed decisions rather than react to a Twitter headline. Through our due diligence, here is what we found out about Steve Ross:
He is a successful, self-made, real estate-centric businessman who has created tens of thousands of quality jobs, and a generous philanthropist who has given away a large percentage of his wealth to education, healthcare and diversity initiatives. Mr. Ross also owns the Miami Dolphins.
More specifically, Mr. Ross has given hundreds of millions of dollars to his alma mater, the University of Michigan. Some of those funds were earmarked for the business school, some for athletics, and the rest towards “career development programs for students, innovative action-based learning experiences, and resources for attracting and developing junior faculty.”
Ross is actively involved with the Guggenheim Museum, New York Presbyterian Hospital, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Jackie Robinson Foundation, “a public, not-for-profit organization that perpetuates the legacy of Jackie Robinson by promoting higher education through a comprehensive college scholarship program.”
Last year, The Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF) honored Steve Ross and presented him a lifetime achievement award over a dinner intended to raise funds for the JRF general scholarship fund and The Jackie Robinson Museum, that is due to open this year. Here is an excerpt from the press release:
“Stephen Ross, who created the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) to improve race relations and drive social progress through sports, has been a longtime champion of equal opportunity, and has served on the JRF board of directors for nearly three decades. As the developer of Hudson Yards, a new neighborhood rising on Manhattan’s west side that will employ over 56,000 people, Ross has been committed to making a difference with an over four decade-long commitment to the creation and preservation of affordable housing. Over 60% of all of the Related portfolio consists of affordable residences and the company has never converted a single unit to market rent.”
Said JRF president Della Britton Baeza, “Stephen Ross has contributed greatly to advancing the causes Jackie Robinson fought for throughout his life. What Steve has done with RISE and his decades of devotion to the Jackie Robinson Foundation as a board member, for example, demonstrate profoundly his belief in a more inclusive society.”
These endorsements and accolades bestowed on Steve Ross certainly do not paint the picture of a man who is uncaring, selfish or biased.
Despite these and many other tangible examples of Mr. Ross’ work and charitable giving that benefit a number of wonderful, inclusive causes, there are some people, including one that happens to be on his payroll who Mr. Ross will compensate to the tune of 8 million dollars this year, who choose to publicly criticize him. After finding out Mr. Ross was organizing a fundraiser for Trump, Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills tweeted, “You can’t have a non-profit (RISE) with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump.”
In our February 24th column, we argued that Donald Trump “certainly has not adhered to the higher level of personal conduct that is a non-negotiable precondition to serve as Chief Executive of the United States…To be sure, he has denigrated the office and further polluted the very swamp he promised to clean up…However, just because we might object to a person in general, does not mean that certain polices he or she champions are not ones we agree with.”
Indeed, one important piece of legislation that President Trump signed into law, which was also highlighted in our “Where We Think Trump Is Right” piece, was “The First Step Act," a bi-partisan prison reform bill. Among other things, this piece of legislation rectified some of the injustices that were the product of federal drug laws enacted in the late 1980 that disproportionately negatively impacted minorities. We wrote that those original laws were unjust "because of blatant inconsistencies between longer penalties recommended for crack-cocaine offenses, a drug often associated with inner-city minorities than for powdered-cocaine wrongdoings, a drug of choice amongst Caucasians.”
Steve Ross appears to be a perfectly fine gentleman. But just because he is, doesn’t mean he might support a politician that other perfectly fine men and women (and us) find distasteful, even though one piece of legislation that politician signed into law disproportionally benefits many of the same people who find him distasteful. Point being and we reiterate that understanding and appreciating views that might not be commensurate with one's own almost always involves rejecting overly-simplistic black-and-white binaries.
Money That Folds Speaks Louder Than Money That Jingles
Steve Ross has probably done more to help marginalized members of our society and support various communities (via creating tens of thousands of jobs, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to education, the arts, athletics (RISE), building affordable housing units and serving on the boards of various charitable organizations) than almost every single one of the people who decided to cancel their Equinox membership.
Despite what some former Equinox & SoulCycle members say they did, the people who exercised their right to terminate their membership did not vote with their pocketbooks, they voted with their change jars. Equinox and SoulCycle cater primarily to an upper and upper-middle class clientele. In order to make a lasting difference politically, typically one must do something that will materially inconvenience them. Calling to cancel an Equinox membership and switching to another high-end gym a few blocks away takes five minutes. That is hardly inconvenient, but it does make for a good Instagram post or tweet, perhaps one might even garner a few “likes.”
There is certainly a time and place to protest or boycott purchasing goods or services from an individual, business, or government to actively participate in a movement against horrible things such genocide, apartheid, or totalitarianism. Certain causes to action that highlight the disastrous consequences of climate change or a targeted movement to counter the opioid epidemic would also make the cut.
Deciding to patronize another luxury gym to protest an extremely philanthropic passive investor who has no direct involvement in running Equinox – and in the process potentially compromising the livelihood of some of the employees who work at Equinox - only because he supports Donald Trump…eh, sorry we can’t there.