The morning after Real Salt Lake and LAFC decided to not play their scheduled game Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen responded with what he described as “profound disappointment.”
Speaking on the local show “Radio From Hell,” which is broadcast on a station he owns, Hansen said the boycott of the game went against what the RSL stands for, which is a sense of community building and family. He likened the team’s decision to a backstabbing.
“It’s a moment of sadness,” Hansen said. “It’s like someone stabbed you and then you’re trying to figure out a way to pull the knife out and move forward. That’s what it feels like. The disrespect was profound to me personally.”
RSL and LAFC decided about an hour before kickoff Wednesday not to play their game to show solidarity with other sports leagues, including the NBA, WNBA and some MLB teams, which had done the same in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. Earlier Wednesday, it appeared that Major League Soccer teams would continue with its games.
But as postponements throughout sports continued to get announced, that quickly changed. Five of the six scheduled MLS games Wednesday weren’t played.
RSL Chief Business Officer Andy Carroll, who also appeared on the Broadway Media radio show, said he heard from some disappointed fans who traveled long distances to attend the RSL game. He apologized to them for the game’s postponement.
“People were really looking forward to it,” Carroll said. “So that was really disappointing and we apologize to our fans and to our sponsors and to our staff that we were not able to have a game.”
Hansen was emphatic when he spoke about how much preparation went into getting Rio Tinto Stadium at a point where it could safely host 5,000 fans. It would have been the first time since March that RSL would have spectators.
Hansen intimated that the players disregarded the club’s preparations.
“Obviously the importance of bringing community together during COVID was not respected,” Hansen said.
Hansen also said RSL was “fully prepared” to play the game against LAFC and seemed to suggest that it was pressure from the Los Angeles team and other sports leagues that swayed the players’ thinking. Nedum Onuoha and Zac MacMath, however, said Wednesday that discussions about a possible boycott started hours before RSL arrived to the stadium.
As an apparent response to the game’s boycott, Hansen said he’ll be rolling back some of the decisions he’s made recently, including bringing back 40 employees who had been furloughed in April due to the suspension of the MLS season.
“We will not be inviting fans back to the stadium in the future, so tomorrow ... I start cutting 40 to 50 jobs again,” Hansen said. “We would not go through the risk of inviting people back to have that kind of an outcome.”
Hansen also seemed to threaten pulling back on-the-field investment in the team.
“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. “It just seems that’s not a very good path to take.”
Hansen seemed convinced that the movement players were supporting by not playing Wednesday’s game usurped their feelings toward the local community.
“They supported other issues nationally, but they clearly did not support our city nor our organization,” Hansen said. “That’s fairly clear.”
The interview was later taken down from the radio station’s website, then reuploaded late Thursday night.
MLS commissioner Don Garber condemned Hansen’s remarks.
“I appreciate Dell Loy Hansen’s efforts to build the sport of soccer in Utah,” he said in a statement. “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.”
NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird also spoke out against Hansen’s comments.
“Dell Loy Hansen’s remarks regarding player protests are in conflict with the values of the NWSL,” Baird said in a statement. “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.”
Hansen later Thursday walked back his comments from the morning, saying he may not have fully understood why they were protesting in the moment. The RSL owner also said he lost $3 million in sponsorships Thursday morning.
“I saw the man in the stands, not the overall movement in sports to say, ’Enough is enough and it’s way beyond enough,” Hansen said on ESPN700, a radio station he owns. “Probably in the moment I didn’t feel that message. As I studied it, I get the message.”
Hansen apologized to fans who may have thought his comments mean he didn’t care about the Black Lives Matter movement. He also apologized to Garber for the “stabbing” comment.
But the damage may be done.
RSL defender Nedum Onuoha told the BBC that he no longer wanted to be at the club.
“I don’t want to be here because I’m not here to play for someone who isn’t here to support us,” Onuoha said. “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.”
Utah Royals FC rookie Tziarra King also spoke out on Twitter against Hansen’s comments, calling them “completely unacceptable.” Hansen owns the Royals, as well as 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 said. “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.”
King continued: “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.”
Fans, former players and and other high profile athletes decried Hansen’s comments. RSL legend Nick Rimando said on Twitter that he was “disgusted” by what Hansen said.
“Wow just wow! I can’t even right now,” Rimando wrote. “@realsaltlake locker room, fans, and front office that stand for equality, human rights, and the fight against racism I applaud you. I am disgusted by DLH comments. This is more than a game.”
Andy Williams, who played for RSL during its heyday and worked as its head scout for years until being furloughed in April, wasn’t shy about his experiences working under Hansen.
“He is not a great human being — point blank,” Williams told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Williams said he’s heard about or been a party to Hansen saying sexist or racist comments, including him personally hearing the owner use the N-word.
“He’s pretty naive about that stuff,” Williams said.
Williams made clear that Hansen did not use racist language toward him personally.
The MLS Players Association called for the suspension of Hansen after the Athletic reported the alleged instances of racism in detail.
“The allegations in tonight’s Athletic story concerning RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen are sickening,” the MLSPA said. “The MLSPA calls upon MLS to immediately suspend Hansen and a conduct a thorough investigation. If the allegations are substantiated, he must be forced to sell the team.”
Shortly after the players association released its statement, MLS announced it was “deeply concerned” about the allegations and said it will “immediately commence an investigation.” The NWSL Player’s Association also made a statement in support of the MLSPA. Later Thursday, the NWSL said it would conduct its own investigation.
Other athletes called for Hansen to sell the team, including Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. Toronto FC player Jozy Altidore said on Twitter that he is involved with a group looking to buy RSL. And U.S. Women’s National Team star Megan Rapinoe called Hansen’s comments “unacceptable” and “reprehensible.”
In his initial comments, Hansen said he supported “an inclusive, fairly liberal agenda.” In the same breath, he seemed to suggest supporting that agenda has unintended consequences.
“Maybe that agenda has gotten so far that we’re punishing all sides of society who would love to support an inclusive society,” Hansen said.
The RSL owner also said it’s currently unknown whether RSL will travel to Portland to play the Timbers on Saturday. The uncertainty of that game was also expressed by players on Wednesday.