Following the shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man in Wisconsin, many sports teams and players decided to, in protest not take to the field of play and make a unified stand against systemic racism in America. The backlash led to multiple leagues coming out in support of their athletes and postponing or cancelling games by the dozens over the past two days. Major League Soccer (MLS) has followed the NBA, WNBA and tennis tours and postponed their season till further notice.
This decision seems to have not sat well with all parties though. The MLS franchise Real Salt Lake’s owner, Dell Loy Hansen — who has, in a recent report published by The Athletic revealed to be guilty of racism on multiple occasions — went on a radio show to say that he felt “disrespected” by the postponement, and may consider pulling his investment in the club.
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The backlash to Hansen’s remarks has been swift and have emanated from within his own organisation. One of the first to take offence to the businessman’s statement and question was the club’s defender Nedum Onuoha, who, in conversation with the BBC World Service said he may reconsider playing for the club again.
"I don't want to be here because I'm not here to play for someone who isn't here to support us," Onuoha, a former Manchester City player, said. “It didn’t feel right to be playing a game when people are trying to highlight a big conversation and things that are bigger than sport. We are trying to create a bigger conversation but a lot of the people who are in power don't empathise or sympathise or do anything. They are more concerned with themselves."
“I was brought to tears this morning as I was listening to stories of what has happened over the last few days and knowing the owner isn’t in agreement and now seeing this stuff here. I'd like to say I'm proud, but I wish it is something that we didn't have to do."
Hansen’s comments came in an interview with X96’s “Radio from Hell”, an online radio show. The interview has since been removed from YouTube, but the full transcript can be found here. In it, while discussing player protests and subsequent postponements Hansen expressed disappointment and said he would reduce the investment he has in the club and would also make redundancies across the business.
"We're all sitting here at an organisation trying to build support and love around a team that supports the city," he said. "All I can say is they supported other issues nationally. They clearly did not support our city or our organisation. That's fairly clear. It's a moment of sadness. It's 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’s statements were taken very seriously by the MLS who have since made a statement on Twitter announcing they will conduct an investigation into his ownership of the team and take action, if needed.
"We are deeply concerned about the allegations made in a report published this evening concerning the language used by and the conduct of Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen," the statement noted. "Major League Soccer has zero-tolerance for this type of language or conduct and will immediately commence an investigation."
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In a subsequent interview with ESPN 700 Hansen apologized saying he made an error when representing the intentions of the boycott. .
“We’d like to apologize because, when I look at the stats here and people who did prodigious amounts of work … at the herculean effort that went into that, the sense of community and building each other took a backseat to other important issues, and a there was a decision to punish local fans, local businesses and a sense of community pride. That was pretty hard to take,” Hansen said.
More than the statements made recently, The Athletic’s revelations about Hansen’s history of racism may cause the MLS to stand up and take note. The story reports on several instances of racism which include a time when Hansen asked staff at the club "when are we going to lynch this guy?" in reference to midfielder Kellyn Acosta. He was also recorded as saying Aaron Maund looked like a "thug" when he was wearing a hoodie, and has been found to use the N word on two separate occasions.
Calls to relieve Hansen of ownership have gathered a lot of steam, Toronto FC forward and USA international Jozy Altidore revealed he was involved with a group planning a takeover bid.
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