Linda Mitchell, the director of public relations and community partners at Newtown Athletic Club, shares her behind-the-scenes perspective of the recent Trump rally held at the facility.
On Friday, October 21, 2016 the Newtown Athletic Club (NAC) hosted a full blown Trump rally for over 4,000 people inside their NAC Sports Training Center, with another 4,000 remaining outside after not being able to enter as the building was at capacity.
The NAC Sports Training Center is a 40,000-square-foot indoor athletic field house situated on 22 acres of the total 250,000-square-foot NAC Complex. Services at the main NAC building and outdoor resort pool complex are included in the NAC membership; however, the NAC Sports Training Center is a stand-alone business which hosts sports groups for training, tournaments and special events for the community. This distinction is important as it was our goal to not displace the membership for this event and to remain politically neutral as a business.
We viewed this amazing opportunity to host a major national presidential candidate at our site as a historic event.
The real story here is our underlying desire to access one of the presidential nominees in order to promote our “My Right To Try” advocacy work. After becoming involved with Augie’s Quest, which grew into our own Matt’s Mission for Matt Bellina, we became aware that experimental drugs in Phase 2 and 3 trials were almost impossible for ALS and other terminally ill patients to get under the current stringent FDA regulatory pathways.
The “My Right To Try” bill would streamline these pathways and get drugs to patients faster. By hosting a Trump rally we knew that Jim Worthington, the owner of NAC, and Bellina could talk with Trump directly, which they did for about 15 minutes, educating him on the bill. He agreed that it made sense. To our surprise, within 24 hours at his 100 Day Contract speech in Gettysburg the very next morning after the rally, he promised, as part of his platform, to streamline FDA regulations so that millions of terminally ill patients in America could access drugs faster.
Worthington became a Republican delegate to the National Convention in July. He ran on the pledge to vote for whomever the people elected in his congressional district and that person turned out to be Donald Trump. He then established a grass roots political action group called People4Trump at the behest of many other Trump supporters in our community. Jim, who is a natural leader and not one to ever shrink from a challenge, took the gauntlet and ran with it. When the Trump Victory team in Pennsylvania came to him with the request to host a rally, his answer was a resounding yes! For more information on this advocacy and to find out how you can help, please visit, www.MyRightToTryNow.com.
In reality, we had about 48 hours from the first phone call to the rally itself. The amount of manpower, logistics and sheer determination it took to pull this event off so quickly was overwhelming. Everyone from the secret service, SWAT teams, logistics experts, Trump field team directors, the Trump state director, media and NAC staff worked non-stop through two consecutive days and nights to get the job done. The fact that a presidential candidate may do three to four of these events each day was an eye-opening revelation into what it takes behind the front lines of a major campaign to make it all happen.
For those of us at the NAC, no matter what side of the political fence you fall on, it was an opportunity of a lifetime to not only see a major party presidential nominee up close, but also to feel part of something amazing, important and game changing.
Here is the rest of the story. We lost over 20 memberships due to this event. It goes without saying they were all democrats who felt we overstepped our bounds by hosting the candidate they did not support. They claimed that we should not use the club for such purposes, citing it as a huge business mistake. Being sensitive to the need to remain neutral as a business, we chose to not host it in our main “membership” building, but rather in the NAC Sports Training Center, which does not have a membership base and is a community business and venue completely separate from the NAC.
Nonetheless, the fallout on social media was venomous and personal, taking us very much by surprise. Much of it was directed at the owner himself. There were those who claimed that we “didn’t care” about their memberships and felt devalued. The truth is we do care about every membership and respect their right to not be a member of our club for whatever reason. We do not make decisions based on the fear of negative fallout, if we believe our position is right. In this case, we have no regret and no second thoughts about our position, and would do it all over again.
As a result of the negative social media flurry, we now have so much positive feedback that it outnumbers the negative by a ratio of at least 9 to 1. One of the social media posts included this quote was, “The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone,” —Henrik Ibsen.
As stated by Jim Worthington, “My father always taught me that if you stand for nothing, everyone will like you, if you stand for something, 50 percent of the people won’t like you. In this case, I stand for my right to have this event in my own place of business, while being respectful of all other points of view. I was willing to push forward with what some may consider a risky action for the sake of the ‘My Right To Try’ bill and all terminally ill patients. Think about this, when I am asked to contribute to a cause or to an individual in trouble, I never ask their political inclination. With that same sense of balance and human compassion, I strive to engage with and respect others every day.”