Just days before Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke is scheduled to return to the team after a three-game suspension, the club is exploring other options — including termination.
Club owner Dell Loy Hansen says he’s considering firing Petke, who was suspended after screaming a homophobic slur in Spanish to a group of referees after a July 24 Leagues Cup game against Tigres UANL. Hansen detailed his thinking to a group of fans after Wednesday’s Utah Royals FC game at Rio Tinto Stadium, per a video of the interaction obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.
The website RSL Soapbox first reported on the interaction and the contents of the video.
The video begins with Hansen discussing another topic with a small group of fans before one interjected and asked him if he was going to fire Petke. Hansen replied that he had a meeting Wednesday with club executives about that very possibility, adding that he would meet with “three” of RSL’s “key sponsors” the day after.
Hansen also told the fans that he and Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber have had “many long, heartfelt conversations.” He went on to say that there is a “deep split” in the fan base over whether to fire Petke.
“Millenials are almost 90 percent out, the older fans are almost 90 percent in,” Hansen said. “I’ve got two generations in this whole thing, so it’s an interesting conversation. Our point is we’re weighing it, but at the end, once it’s all in, it still comes down to our values.”
Hansen also said he is not the type of person that makes rash decisions, including firing people, opting instead to take his time and gather all the information.
“I hate the consequences of taking things away from people,” Hansen said. “However, if you have a values structure, how far can you bend?”
The video ends with a fan saying, “I expect a coach that’s a professional.” Hansen replied, “So do I.”
The saga started when Petke approached referees after the Tigres game yelling the slur and had to be restrained by two of his assistant coaches and goalkeeper Nick Rimando. He then continued his tirade in the one of the tunnels of the stadium and approached the referees with a handwritten sign that displayed the slur.
Petke was initially suspended one game pending an investigation, which confirmed the aforementioned details. He was subsequently suspended two more games by the league, which levied a $25,000 fine. Leagues Cup also suspended him three games. And RSL ordered him to serve a two-week suspension without pay, during which he could not make any contact with the club. Petke was also ordered to attend anger management courses.
The Professional Soccer Referees Association and Equality Utah both condemned Petke’s actions.
Assistant coach Freddy Juarez has been the acting head coach in Petke’s absence. The team has drawn a game and won another under Juarez. The last game of Petke’s suspension is Saturday at Sporting Kansas City, and he’s scheduled to be back with the team Monday.