SALT LAKE CITY — The turmoil within the Real Salt Lake organization is continuing.
Utah Royals FC head coach Craig Harrington and assistant coach Louis Lancaster have been placed on leave of absence, the team said Sunday.
At the beginning of URFC’s Sunday game against Portland Thorns FC, television announcers said assistant coach Amy LePeilbet would become interim head coach, leading to confusion as to Harrington’s status.
The club provided a statement a short time later that read, “Utah Royals FC Head Coach Craig Harrington and Assistant Coach Louis Lancaster have been placed on a leave of absence from team activities, including today’s match against Portland Thorns FC. In the interim, Amy LePeilbet has been named head coach.”
No other details were provided at the time, but The Athletic’s Meg Linehan reported that Harrington has been placed on leave as a result of the investigations being made within the RSL organization. Linehan reported that Lancaster’s leave is “for a different reason.”
Talking with sources now — Harrington's leave of absence is directly tied to the overall investigation into the culture in Utah. Inappropriate comments, at the minimum.#NWSL— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) September 20, 2020
After the game, which URFC lost 3-0, LePeilbet was vague on the timing of when she was asked to step into the interim role, but said, “It was pretty quick. It happened pretty fast. We moved quickly and the players, they didn’t miss a beat. Each day, they showed up. They never gave up. They went after it, and today, they gave their best effort.”
Two hours before the game, which was the first of four in their fall series and before news about Harrington and Lancaster came to light, many URFC players posted a statement on social media addressing the allegations of sexism and racism that have been made against leaders of the franchise and vowed to hold the organization accountable as it moves forward.
“We’ve had enough,” the statement begins. “Enough of racist systems excluding black and brown people. Enough of sexist stereotypes infiltrating conversations about our talents and achievements as athletes. Enough of a work environment that is not open and inclusive for all.”
The statement said players “acknowledge the past wrongdoings of this organization and choose to move forward in a new direction.” They added that “it’s important for us to not sweep these things under the rug, but to bring them to light, in order to hold ourselves and the people around us to a much higher standard.”
Moving forward, the statement said, “As a team, we’re setting the standard with a new beginning. One that is open, welcoming, community driven, and elite. One that continues the work of iconic trailblazers like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to demand equality and respect for all. We expect everyone associated with us to join in upholding these standards. Anything less will impede our progress as a club, as players, and as people. We refuse to settle.”
The statement was signed “Utah Royals FC Players,” and below the signature was a quote from Ginsburg, who passed away last Friday night, which read, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
After the game Sunday, captain Amy Rodriguez and midfielder Vero Boquete were told by the club to not answer questions about Harrington’s situation specifically, but indicated the statement had been in the works before he was placed on leave.
“I think as a unit, we wanted to make sure that our voice was unified and heard,” Rodriguez said. “We had been discussing about putting a statement out together as one over the last few weeks with a lot of changes, a lot of occurrences happening right now with the club. We did feel it was necessary to state our values and to discuss the direction in which we want to see the club going.
“I’m really proud of this group. I’m proud of all the members of this team, and collectively we wanted to put out that statement just before playing, as it was obviously heavy on our minds and on our shoulders, and I’m very proud of this team for doing so.”
Harrington met with media via Zoom on Sept. 11 and addressed the allegations of racism that had been made against club owner Dell Loy Hansen and the allegations of sexism against chief business officer Andy Carroll.
At that time, he said, “We had a strong statement from the club that came out with the zero tolerance towards sexism and racism, and basically there’s no room for it in my team or anything I’m going to be a part of.”
On Sept. 3, he released a statement via Twitter that read, “It has been an honor to watch the Utah Royals players raising their voices for racial and gender equality. I commend their bravery in moving our society to become more just and equitable. There is no place for racism or sexism in sports or in society. Whether on the field or off, as their coach and ally, I am proud to support them in this fight.”
LePeilbet, a former United States Women’s National Team player, has been with the club as an assistant coach since it arrived in Utah in 2017, and last summer she led the Utah Royals FC Reserves to the championship game of the Women’s Premier Soccer League.
“Personally, and I think it’s the case for everyone in this team, it’s an honor to be coached by Amy,” Boquete said. “Doesn’t matter the circumstance of it. These ones are not the best, but I have so much respect for her. She was a fantastic player, but I also respect her because I know the potential that she has as a coach.”
Said LePeilbet of her role Sunday, a role that will continue indefinitely, “This locker room has so much character, and they care about one another, and so in that realm, stepping into this role, they were very accepting and open to me leading them.”