UPDATED 9:30 PM ET with statement from NWSL
As multiple MLS players spoke out about racial injustice and police brutality, spurring a strike that has postponed several games including Real Salt Lake’s match against LAFC, Utah Royals FC and Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen made negative public statements about his players and their work in bringing attention to racism, calling it disrespect to him personally and saying it’s changed his willingness to invest in the team.
Hansen appeared to somewhat walk back his statements on ESPN700 the next day (a show on a station that Hansen owns) although he did not outright apologize to his players (though he did apologize to Don Garber) and in fact attempted to blame their not playing for why Hansen’s RSL employees weren’t being paid.
Utah Royals rookie Tziarra King weighed in before Hansen went on the radio on Thursday afternoon. Her full quote is below:
Any player’s hope is to be in an environment where they are fully supported not only as a player, but most importantly as a person. For DLH to take this very real situation for the black community, and try to turn it around and make it about himself is completely unacceptable. 1/— Tziarra King (@tziarra) August 27, 2020
Any player’s hope is to be in an environment where they are fully supported not only as a player, but most importantly as a person. For DLH to take this very real situation for the black community, and try to turn it around and make it about himself is completely unacceptable. Messages about inclusion and diversity are in complete contradiction with an owner who refuses to understand the relevance of a player strike for racial equality. I’m disappointed, but not surprised, by the lack of understanding in this situation. One thing I’m absolutely not going to do is use his privilege as an excuse for his comments. I hope that people, in this club and beyond, will choose accountability and empathy moving forward. I stand in complete solidarity with the decision of RSL players.
One of the Royals’ own supporters groups, The Court, made an announcement that they will disband.
Dell Loy Hansen's recent comments do not stand with players. They do not stand with black lives. They do not stand with the Court SG's values.— The Court (@CourtofRoyals) August 27, 2020
At this time we will be dismantling. #BlackLivesMatter
NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird responded to a request for comment from The Athletic’s Meg Linehan with the following statement:
Lisa Baird's statement:— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) August 27, 2020
“Dell Loy Hansen’s remarks regarding player protests are in conflict with the values of the NWSL. 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.“
She may have wanted to hold on to for a stronger statement though, given that shortly afterwards, The Athletic released a damning report in which former RSL employee Andy Williams recounted several instances in which he personally witnessed racist behavior from Hansen, including casual use of the N-word.
Update: The league released a statement in response to the allegations in The Athletic’s article.
If Baird truly means what she says, that Hansen’s remarks are in conflict with the values of the National Women’s Soccer League, then it’s hard to see with the revelation of these blatantly racist statements how he can possibly remain in the league’s ownership group. How can any Black player be asked to wear the Royals crest, knowing that the team’s owner has no understanding nor seemingly any willingness to understand the issues oppressing them in this country every day? How can any player wear the crest of such a team? How can we trust that any Black employee of such an organization will be paid fairly and treated with dignity and respect?
Both MLS and NWSL have mechanics for transferring ownership of a team.
Baird has shown good acumen in bringing onboard expansion teams Los Angeles and Sacramento under her tenure. She’s demonstrated that the league has growing broadcast value and has a strong commercial network. If anyone could find a way to move the Royals to another good market, it would be her. As those in a position to influence the national impact of sports and set the tone for the treatment of players, Baird and the other NWSL owners can be part of the critically important work of addressing racial justice by making it clear that Dell Loy Hansen’s racism is unacceptable, no matter how much money he has.