MLS, NWSL to probe Real Salt Lake, Utah Royals owner over alleged use of racist language

Major League Soccer and the National Women's Soccer League said on Thursday that it will open an investigation into Real Salt Lake and Utah Royals FC owner Dell Loy Hansen's alleged use of racist language.

The Athletic reported that Hansen has a history of making racist remarks during his time as owner of the club.

The MLS statement read: "We are deeply concerned about the allegations made in a report published this evening concerning language used by and the conduct of Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen. Major League Soccer has zero tolerance for this type of language or conduct and will immediately commence an investigation."

Initially, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird made a statement that said Hansen's remarks "are in conflict with the values of the NWSL" but an investigation was not mentioned. However, a second statement from an NWSL spokesperson confirmed the investigation.

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

The announcement by the two leagues caps a tumultuous day for Hansen, who came under criticism for comments about players not playing games on Wednesday to denounce racial injustice. Hansen expressed his dissatisfaction with the players' actions, calling it a sign of "disrespect" and saying it made him question "how much I want to invest in the team."

Players from around MLS declined to play on Wednesday in protest of racial injustice and, in particular, the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police on Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Two demonstrators were killed in the city two days later. The development came as players in both the NBA and WNBA declined to play in support of Black Lives Matter as well as to protest the shooting in Kenosha.

Speaking with KXRK-FM's Radio From Hell on Thursday morning, Hansen -- who owns the station -- expressed his dissatisfaction with the players' actions, saying "they clearly supported national issues, but it's very apparent that they didn't support our local community" and "there's a profound disappointment that the spirit that is Real was abandoned last night. ... Obviously, the importance of bringing community together during COVID was not respected."

RSL's contest against visiting LAFC was one of five games postponed on Wednesday.

Hansen, who also owns the USL Championship side Real Monarchs as well, said, "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 threatened to not reopen Rio Tinto Stadium and to pull his money out of the club.

"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. It just seems that's not a very good path to take," Hansen said.

Hansen said he is in favor of progressive agenda and of RSL being an inclusive club but that what took place was a "profound slap to the community value structure" and that the players' actions didn't support the city or the organization. He said they instead supported a national issue.

RSL's Rio Tinto Stadium has been operating at a reduced capacity of about 5,000 fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hansen said he recently had brought back furloughed staff to work on game days. But after what took place Wednesday, Hansen said he will not be inviting fans back to the stadium.

"We will not be inviting fans back to the stadium in the future," he said, "so tomorrow I start cutting 40 to 50 jobs again."

Speaking later Thursday on ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City (also owned by Hansen), he backtracked on his initial comments about the protests and said, "The players' intentions were probably misinterpreted on my side."

Hansen added that he spoke with and apologized to MLS commissioner Don Garber.

Garber released a statement on Hansen's comments about the protests, saying: "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 way they were expressed. They do not reflect the views of MLS.

"This is a time for all of us to work together in the 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."

MLS followed that statement with the one about Hansen's alleged use of racist comments.

RSL defender Nedum Onuoha told the BBC: "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."

U.S. men's national team star Jozy Altidore and former RSL player Nick Rimando were among the players on Thursday criticizing Hansen for his initial comments.

"He needs to sell the team then. I'm involved in a group that's ready to purchase it. Time for change," Altidore tweeted.

Retired RSL goalkeeper Rimando, who spent 20 years in MLS, said Hansen's comments did not reflect the club.

"Wow just wow! I can't even right now. @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," he tweeted.

Utah Jazz player Donovan Mitchell also voiced his support for the players' decision on Wednesday night and suggested that Hansen consider selling the club. "WOW... if it's taken 'the wind' out then sell the team... I stand with @realsaltlake players," Mitchell tweeted.

On Thursday, NBA players announced they would resume playing, likely this weekend. Neither MLS nor the MLS Players Association have yet commented on when games would resume.