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MLS will investigate RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen after allegations of racist language arise in report

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Team owner Dell Loy Hansen and Utah Royals FC players unveil new jerseys for the upcoming season in Herriman on Wednesday, June 17, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Major League Soccer announced Thursday night that it will “immediately commence an investigation” into Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen following a report in The Athletic about alleged racial comments in the past.

The MLS Players Association also released a statement calling for the immediate suspension of Hansen.

“The allegations in tonight’s Athletic story concerning RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen are sickening. The MLSPA calls upon MLS to immediately suspend Hansen and conduct a thorough investigation. If the allegations are substantiated, he must be forced to sell the team.”

In The Athletic report, former RSL head scout Andy Williams — who was furloughed in April as part of team layoffs — recounted incidents of racist comments that Williams alleges were made by Hansen.

The National Women’s Soccer League also issued a statement Thursday night following the report in The Athletic. Hansen is also the owner of the NWSL franchise Utah Royals FC.

“The allegations regarding Dell Loy Hansen contained in published reports are shocking and run counter to everything the NWSL stands for,” the league’s statement read. “We will immediately begin an investigation, and if these reports are substantiated, take all appropriate actions.”

RSL boycotted its match with LAFC on Wednesday night as it joined a player-led movement across multiple sports leagues as a show of solidarity to protest the officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. RSL had sold out its allotment of 5,000 tickets for its first home match since March 7.

Its next match is scheduled for this Saturday at Portland, but that match is very much in jeopardy after the statement from the MLS Players Association on Thursday night.

RSL defender Nedum Onuoha acknowledged the decision to boycott Wednesday’s match was likely a disappointment for many fans but said that he felt it was an important one in a Zoom interview with the media on Wednesday.

“I would never be critical of someone feeling that initial feeling of disappointment because this is something they planned to do and planned to see, but it’s also the same for us as players,” Onuoha said. “We wanted to be here playing, we wanted to be on the field playing in front of fans, which we are very lucky to do. But life is a bigger thing than sport, and I think at times we can confuse the two and think sports the be all end all of everything. But the reality of the situation is that it’s not at all, and when we can really start to grasp that and understand why people do what they do and why we’ve done what we’ve done today.”

Hansen was frustrated about the players’ decision to boycott a match that his staff had spent weeks preparing to host safely, and expressed those frustrations on Thursday morning on the “Radio From Hell” show on X-96 — a station he owns.

Hansen and Real Salt Lake Chief Financial Officer Andy Carroll spoke with X96 for 15 minutes.

“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,” Hansen said toward the end of the interview. “It just seems that’s not a very good path to take.”

That comment in particular drew a swift reply from many on social media, including several Utah Jazz players who are currently in the NBA bubble in Orlando where games have been postponed over player protests.

On Thursday afternoon, Hansen joined Spencer Checketts on “The Drive” show on ESPN700 — also a station Hansen owns — and tried to clarify his remarks.

“The players’ intentions were probably misinterpreted on my side. I felt we had a duty to the community and they felt they had a duty to a greater purpose, and they acted on that greater purpose, and I can respect them for that,” said Hansen.

Hansen’s initial frustration arose because he believed that weeks of preparation to put together a match that fans 5,000 fans could attend at Rio Tinto Stadium for the first time in 172 days weren’t taken into account when the players decided to boycott the match.

The website RSL Soapbox published the full transcript of the interview.

“It’s a moment of sadness,” Hansen said on Thursday morning. “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 later acknowledged it was a very poor use of a metaphor.

Before The Athletic report came out on Thursday, MLS commissioner Don Garber issued the following statement on the matter.

“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 the way they were expressed. They do not reflect the views of MLS. This is a time for all of us to work together in pursuit of racial equality and social justice. Major League Soccer and all of its clubs will continue to support and create initiatives that enact real change.”

The tone of MLS’s second statement changed drastically after The Athletic report.

Earlier in the day on Thursday, Onuoha told BBC World Service in his native United Kingdom, “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.”

When Onuoha spoke with Checketts on “The Drive” later in the day, he stood by those comments. He said he’d wait to talk to his teammates before making a decision on his future.

Onuoha was the first RSL player to publicly speak out against Hansen, but later, Utah Royals FC rookie Tziarra King also did the same. Hansen owns both teams, along with the Real Monarchs.

“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,” King wrote on Twitter. “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.”

A few hours after King’s comments, Lisa Baird, who is commissioner of the NWSL (of which URFC belongs), also released a statement similar to Garber’s.

“Dell Loy Hansen’s remarks regarding player protests are in conflict with the values of the NWSL,” the statement read. “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.“

Later, King’s fellow rookie on URFC, Kate Del Fava, who is from Kenosha, tweeted her support of King and her other Black teammates.

“I stand with & wholeheartedly support Tziarra and all of my black teammates; accountability is required for change to happen,” Del Fava wrote. “Black Lives Matter.”

The Milwaukee Bucks players were the first to boycott their game on Wednesday, which eventually led to all three NBA games being postponed. The WNBA followed suit, and many wondered if MLS would follow.

It seemed like MLS would play on when the Orlando-Nashville game kicked off at 5:30 p.m. MDT — a game that went the full 90 minutes. About 30 minutes after that game kicked off, Atlanta and Miami elected to boycott their match, with RSL-LAFC following suit about 6:30 p.m. — approximately an hour before kickoff.

Onuoha was asked what he thought about the Nashville-Orlando match going ahead as scheduled.

“When it came down to it, the conversations that we were having in mid-afternoon were different for the people who were kicking off games later because you have more time to think about it and get a feel for what you really wanted to do. I wouldn’t necessarily the decision was rushed upon them, but they didn’t necessarily have that luxury of having time,” said Onuoha.

“I’m sure there are people on both sets of teams that would’ve done what the rest of the league has done today, but in that moment they didn’t reach that decision. It’s not ideal because we couldn’t show a completely united front, but in the same breath everybody is standing up there before the game I think they are with the cause they just weren’t able to deliver the message the same way the rest of the league has managed to do today.”

Hansen, however, expressed frustration that RSL players didn’t consider team and fan-related issues before boycotting.

“We went through a profound amount of preparation during the COVID era to still be able to create our sense of community where people could be invited. Obviously we failed at a profound level,” said Hansen in the morning.

During that morning interview, Hansen said fans wouldn’t be invited back to the stadium for RSL’s next home match on Wednesday against Seattle, but in his later interview he walked back on those comments and said that after talking with some staff and fans the plan would be to have fans in the stadium.