UPDATE: Added Utah Royals official statement.
As the Utah Royals took on the Portland Thorns on Friday night, a disgusting bit of news floated to the surface of the chatter around the game. At least one fan in section 15 of Rio Tinto stadium was using racist insults against Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, insults which she heard.
Both Thorns and Royals players quickly spoke out against the specific incident against Franch and against racism in general, with tweets from the official Thorns twitter, Christen Press, and Becky Sauerbrunn, among others. The NWSL Players Association also released an official statement. The Utah Royals issued a short official statement of their own about the incident on Saturday, followed on Sunday by NWSL’s statement, both of them pending an investigation.
The half-baked nature of that graphic aside, NWSL seemed unprepared to handle the incident, telling The Athletic’s Meg Linehan they could not provide the actual league policy applicable to this situation.
I asked the NWSL for the league policy that was referenced concerning racist comments. League official could not provide the policy at this time, but "working to get it."— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) September 8, 2019
The most insidious part of this incident may be that people who witnessed this racist behavior and could have identified the perpetrators allegedly chose not to when stadium security responded to complaints. When at least one fan contacted the Royals via twitter in now-deleted tweets, stadium security responded, but could not identify who it was.
Are you still available to help? We have extra security stationed in your section. However, without identifying the individual, we can not remove them. pic.twitter.com/UpbxjiQCqX— Utah Royals FC (@UtahRoyalsFC) September 7, 2019
There are a couple of breakdowns here on a couple of sides of the equation. First, there are the other fans who surely saw and heard the person or persons doing this and yet did not corroborate the fan who tried to point them out to security, or show security the correct person. If Franch heard this abuse from the field, there is no chance that people in the same section didn’t hear it as well.
Then there’s the league itself, which appears to have been caught flat-footed by this incident, with no apparent policy in place for the public to read. NWSL thankfully may have a much lower incidence of racist behavior (that we know of) among fans to which they must respond, but why isn’t there general league policy in place for bad behavior that reaches the level required for disciplinary action? Surely a sports league could anticipate that a fan might someday do something objectionable that would require the intervention of the team and removal from a stadium. And sad to say, racism is clearly one of the obvious categories of bad behavior for which you’d want a response.
Here’s what should come next:
- A thorough and transparent investigation
- If the guilty person/persons are found, an immediate lifetime ban
- Club and league publicly detail the steps they will take to prevent future incidents of racism
- Staff given training on how to handle these incidents if they have not already received such
- Club offers information on intervention/de-escalation for all fans who want it
Utah is expected to release a more detailed statement later today, and we will update if/when that happens. Hopefully over the weekend some fan came forward and aided in the Royals’ investigation.
Update: Utah Royals official statement
Racists do not deserve anonymity nor the joy of soccer. They have no place in stadiums or among supporters anywhere. Every fan who witnesses racism and is able to do something about it - whether it is confronting the racist, telling security, recording incidents for evidence, notifying another fan who is willing to take action, etc. - yet does nothing is complicit in it. Your silence protects a racist. Speak up.