The funds will benefit the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, or RISE, a nonprofit that works with key figures in the sports world on programs aiming to end racial discrimination and improve race relations. Ross, 80, has pledged a total of $30 million toward RISE since he founded the nonprofit in 2015.
“Growing up in Detroit, I saw firsthand what racism did to tear apart our community, destroy lives and further inequality. I started RISE based on the belief that our nation must address the scourge of racism directly to achieve true unity,” Ross said in a statement. “Now more than ever, our mission and the need for this work is clear.”
RISE has active partnerships with nearly every major U.S. pro sports league. The nonprofit’s board of directors includes Ross, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and several other top executives in sports and media.
RISE works with its partners on a variety of events and workshops. The nonprofit’s signature programs include leadership workshops on topics such as implicit bias, multi-week programs meant to strengthen ties between law enforcement and local communities through sports, and “RISE to Vote,” a campaign to boost election turnout and educate young voters on key issues.
Ross’ financial commitment comes weeks after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis while in police custody, which triggered nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality. The Dolphins owner is the latest of several sports executives, pro athletes and companies to announce new steps to address inequality.
The NFL committed $250 million over the next 10 years to support social justice programs and pledged to promote key causes on its media platforms, including the NFL Network. Ross’ work through RISE is separate from the NFL’s commitment.
Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, praised Ross’ renewed pledge to RISE.
“During this time of national unrest, many individuals have stepped up to being part of the solution. Stephen continues to dedicate his time, resources and vision, as he has for decades, in an unwavering commitment to ending racism in partnership with the leadership, heart and influence of athletes globally,” Vincent said in a statement. “Stephen’s words are backed by his actions demonstrated by his body of work to advance equality, respect and understanding as a leader in the national dialogue on race and social justice.”
In addition to funding RISE’s existing programs, the $13 million will go toward boosting the organization’s partnerships in other sports, such as NASCAR, tennis and golf. The funds also will support the expansion of RISE’s “Champions for Change” program, described as a “multi-sensory experience that educates fans on the impact of sports on civil rights."
“I’m proud to be on the board of RISE, because they are part of the action that is needed to create real change,” said SpringHill Entertainment CEO Maverick Carter. “They are proactive in their efforts to address racial discrimination and improve race relations. It’s not enough to talk about it. We need to tackle it head on, and I’m proud to be a part of RISE’s efforts to do that.”
Ross faced widespread criticism last summer after he hosted a lavish fundraising event for President Trump’s reelection campaign at his Hamptons mansion. Donors spent up to $250,000 to attend the event.
Ross’ support for Trump triggered calls among celebrities, including comedian Billy Eichner and model Chrissy Teigen, for a boycott of Equinox and SoulCycle. The fitness brands are subsidiaries of Ross’ holding firm, The Related Companies.
NFL wide receiver Kenny Stills, then a member of the Dolphins, was publicly critical of the fundraiser, arguing that Ross’ relationship with Trump contradicted RISE’s mission statement.
“I have always been an active participant in the democratic process. While some prefer to sit outside of the process and criticize, I prefer to engage directly and support the things I deeply care about," Ross said in a statement at the time. "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."