News Sunshine State

Exercise in Bullying?

Team Sponsor Says Clothing Message was Meant in Fun, Camaraderie

FORT LAUDERDALE – Although the 2012 SMART Ride was an outstanding achievement—raising in its ninth year over $860,000 to use for direct services benefiting those with HIV/AIDS—this year’s competitive and team-building event has been the backdrop of a less-than-friendly exchange between friends who support one another’s businesses and causes, but who have become embroiled in what may be an unfortunate misunderstanding, and what one person calls “hurt feelings.”

The SMART Ride is run as a team event in which fundraising is achieved alongside the esprit de corps and good-natured rivalry so common to modern sport. “It’s a camaraderie that’s built to work and excel together, as much as it is to raise as much money as we can for a very worthy cause,” explains John Zieba, co-owner of Rosie’s Bar and Grill in Wilton Manors, sponsor of the Friends of Rosie’s team in the SMART Ride, and the object of some of those hurt feelings.

But David Vincent, founder and CEO of the Live Free Be Strong [LFBS] Foundation, which sponsors the Live Free Be Strong ride team, says that the friendly competition took an unfriendly turn in the lead up to the race, with the Rosie’s team members sporting shorts that bore the message “Live Free Be Stronger” on the back side.

“It sent the wrong message,” said Vincent. “We are an anti-bullying organization, and several members of my team came to me very upset at what they felt was them being targeted” in a form of bullying by the apparel worn by Team Rosie’s.

Vincent says that there may have been some  objections to the attire by members of the Rosie’s team themselves.He says, too, that some members of his team, who are employed at Rosie’s, may have felt harassed, however unintentionally, by the message on the shorts.

Zieba, shocked, says that nothing could have been further in the minds of him, Mulcahy, and their team. “This was meant to be fun, tongue in cheek, a tradition we started last year. We chose to single out their early fundraising efforts as a good-natured way of competing with them, not to injure them in any way.”

He challenges the suggestion that there was any retaliation in mind behind the shorts. “We have employees who ride on other team, including New Moon,” a neighboring establishment frequented by gay women.

Tim Haymon, who was the captain of the Rosie’s team (but is not employed by the establishment), says he was not aware of any complaints from his teammates about the shorts. He acknowledged that he had heard “there was some hurt feelings,” but wasn’t personally involved in decisions about team attire.

There’s no disagreement between Zieba and Vincent or anyone else in acknowledging Rosie’s support for the LGBT community, and in particular Vincent’s LFBS Foundation.

“I am a friend of both John and Cliff [Mulcahy, Zieba’s business partner]. They are great guys, and terrific supporters of this community.” He adds that they “wrote the very first check to the [LFBS] Foundation, and that he “used to ride on the Rosie’s SMART Ride team.”

SMART Ride founder Glen Weinzimer told the Agenda, “A lot of our teams have a healthy rivalry, but none of them did anything that took away from their tremendous accomplishment,” adding that “what we’re doing together is so much bigger and more important than an unfortunate misunderstanding.”

Weinzimer suggested that, “from an organization standpoint, if there are any hurt feelings, both teams should make it clear that there was no ill intent, and focus their great energies on continuing the invaluable work they do for our community. Their hearts and souls are all in the right places.”

“The real news here,” says Zieba—who offered his apologies to those, including Vincent, who may have been offended, no matter how unintentionally—is “the $860,000 that was raised for an amazing cause, and that we remain committed to supporting this community, and that includes supporting Dave [Vincent] and his Foundation.”