- Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC.
Major League Soccer said on Thursday that it will open an investigation on Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen’s alleged use of racist language.
The Athletic published a story detailing alleging that Hansen has a history of making racially charged remarks in his time as owner of the club.
The league statement read: “We are deeply concerned about the allegations made in a report published this evening concerning language used by and the conduct of Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen. Major League Soccer has zero tolerance for this type of language or conduct and will immediately commence an investigation.”
The announcement by MLS caps a tumultuous day for Hansen, who came under criticism for comments about players’ boycotting games on Wednesday to denounce racial injustice. Hansen expressed his dissatisfaction with the players’ actions, calling it a sign of “disrespect” and made him question “how much I want to invest in the team.”
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Players from around MLS declined to play on Wednesday in protest of racial injustice and, in particular, the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police on Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Two demonstrators were killed in the city two days later. The development came as players in both the NBA and WNBA declined to play in support of Black Lives Matter as well as to protest the shooting in Kenosha.
Speaking with KXRK’s Radio From Hell on Thursday morning, Hansen — who owns the station — expressed his dissatisfaction with the players’ actions, saying “they clearly supported national issues, but it’s very apparent that they didn’t support our local community” and “there’s a profound disappointment that the spirit that is Real was abandoned last night. … Obviously, the importance of bringing community together during COVID was not respected.”
RSL’s contest against visiting LAFC was one of five games postponed on Wednesday.
Hansen, who also owns the NWSL’s Utah Royals FC, as well as USL Championship side Real Monarchs, said, “like somebody stabbed you and you’re trying to figure out a way to pull the knife out and move forward. That’s what it feels like. The disrespect is profound to me personally.”
Hansen threatened to not reopen Rio Tinto Stadium and to pull his money out of the club.
“It’s taken a lot of wind out of my sails, what effort I want to put into recruiting players and building a great team. It just seems that’s not a very good path to take,” Hansen said.
Hansen said he is in favor of progressive agenda and of RSL being an inclusive club but said that what took place was a “profound slap to the community value structure” and that the players’ actions didn’t support the city or the organization. He said they instead supported a national issue.
RSL’s Rio Tinto Stadium was operating at a reduced capacity of about 5,000 fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hansen said he had recently brought back furloughed staff to work on game days. But as a consequence of what took place Wednesday, Hansen said he will not be inviting fans back to the stadium in the future.
“We will not be inviting fans back to the stadium in the future, so tomorrow I start cutting 40 to 50 jobs again.”
Speaking later Thursday on ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City (also owned by Hansen), he backtracked his initial comments about the protests and said, “The players’ intentions were probably misinterpreted on my side.”
Hansen added that he spoke with and apologized to MLS commissioner Don Garber.
Garber released a statement on Hansen’s comments about the protests, saying: “I appreciate Dell Loy Hansen’s efforts to build the sport of soccer in Utah. His commitment to MLS, the NWSL and the USL, as well as the game at the youth level, has been significant. However, I strongly disagree with the comments he made today and way they were expressed. They do not reflect the views of MLS.
“This is a time for all of us to work together in the pursuit of racial equality and social justice. Major League Soccer and all its of clubs will to continue to support and create initiatives that enact real change.”
MLS followed up that statement with the one about Hansen’s alleged use of racist comments.
NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird also spoke out against Hansen.
“Dell Loy Hansen’s remarks regarding player protests are in conflict with the values of the NWSL,” Baird said in a statement. “Black Lives Matter, racism in this country is real, and we all must continue the critically important work of addressing racial injustice in our country.”
RSL defender Nedum Onuoha told the BBC that, “I don’t want to be here because I’m not here to play for someone who isn’t here to support us.
“We are trying to create a bigger conversation but a lot of the people who are in power don’t empathize or sympathize or do anything. They are more concerned with themselves.”
USMNT star Jozy Altidore and former RSL player Nick Rimando were also among the players on Thursday criticizing Hansen for his initial comments.
“He needs to sell the team then. I’m involved in a group that’s ready to purchase it. Time for change,” tweeted Altidore.
Retired RSL goalkeeper Rimando, who spent 20 years in MLS, said Hansen’s comments did not reflect the club.
“Wow just wow! I can’t even right now. @realsaltlake locker room, fans, and front office that stand for equality, human rights, and the fight against racism I applaud you. I am disgusted by DLH comments. This is more than a game,” he tweeted.
Utah Jazz player Donovan Mitchell also voiced his support for the players’ decision on Wednesday night and suggested that Hansen consider selling the club. “WOW… if it’s taken ‘the wind’ out then sell the team… I stand with @realsaltlake players,” Mitchell tweeted.
On Thursday, the NBA players announced they would resume playing on Friday. Neither MLS nor the players’ association have yet commented on when games would resume.
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