Black NWSL players unify to condemn Utah owner

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A coalition of Black players from the National Women’s Soccer League pledged to continue fighting for progress and expressed their unified support for the ongoing investigation of Utah owner Dell Loy Hansen over allegations he used racist language.

Numerous NWSL players tweeted the same two-panel statement Saturday night, including teammates Crystal Dunn, Jessica McDonald and Lynn Williams of the North Carolina Courage, Jamia Fields of the Houston Dash, Sarah Gorden of the Chicago Red Stars, Midge Purce of Sky Blue FC and Taylor Smith and Jasmyne Spencer of OL Reign.

The statement was signed as coming from “Black players of the NWSL.”

The owner of the NWSL’s Utah Royals FC, MLS’ Real Salt Lake and the USL’s Real Monarchs, Hansen took a leave of absence on Friday while MLS and NWSL conduct investigations.

In a pair of local radio interviews this week, Hansen expressed frustration with MLS players choosing not to play Wednesday in solidarity with players across multiple leagues in response to the shooting by police of Jacob Blake, a Black man. Later on Wednesday, a report in The Athletic detailed multiple allegations of racist remarks by Hansen, prompting the MLS and NWSL investigations.

“We are no longer surprised by ignorant comments made in response to courageous demonstrations by athletes committed to fighting for social justice,” the statement from the Black players read, in part.

“However, we find it especially concerning when those in leadership roles lack the ability to empathize, understand, or respect our fight against racism and the brutal killings of Black people in America.

“Dell Loy Hansen’s comments are disgraceful, and we stand with the Utah Royals, Real Salt Lake and Real Monarchs players as they move to suspend and investigate Hansen.”

The statement also expressed support for Royals rookie Tziarra King, who was critical of Hansen in a much-shared Twitter thread on Wednesday.

“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,” King said in her tweets.

“I’m disappointed, but not surprised, by the lack of understanding in this situation.”

As part of the first professional team sports league to return in the United States after the coronavirus pandemic shut down competitions in March, NWSL players were also the first to play since the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25. The visible support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the choice of most players to kneel during the national anthem put the league in the middle of the ongoing national conversation about racial injustice.

Chicago’s Gorden told CBS during the Challenge Cup that she hoped to help form a Black players’ coalition in the NWSL, a hope that manifested itself with a loud voice Saturday.

“It is draining,” Gorden told CBS last month. “And I think that that’s the biggest difference between being a white athlete and a Black athlete, is that you can’t turn it off. Being a Black athlete, having a Black child, having Black family and friends — you can’t turn that off.”

Saturday’s statement gave no indication as to whether or not players intend to play at the current time. NWSL teams are set to begin an abbreviated fall season on Sept. 5.

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