Major League Soccer has announced an investigation into Real Salt Lake’s billionaire owner Dell Loy Hansen after he dismissed player protests against racism as being ‘disrespectful’ and allegations surfaced claiming he has a history of racially insensitive comments, including his use of the n-word.
MLS confirmed Thursday night that it was conducting an investigation of Hansen, who also owns a National Women’s Soccer League club, the Utah Royals, and the USL’s Real Monarchs, a second-tier men’s team.
Furthermore, one of MLS’ most prominent black players, Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore, demanded Hansen sell RSL, saying that he’s formed a group that is looking to buy the club.
Hansen, a Utah real estate mogul, came under fire after Real Salt Lake and LAFC decided not to play their match on Wednesday. It was one of five MLS games called off as athletes reacted to the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which has sparked anti-racism protests and boycotts throughout professional sports.
‘It’s like someone stabbed you and then you’re trying to figure out a way to pull the knife out and move forward,’ Hansen said Thursday morning on X96, a Salt Lake City radio station he owns. ‘That’s what it feels like. The disrespect was profound to me, personally.’
Hansen also suggested the matter might discourage his investment in the teams.
He addressed his own comments later in the day on another radio station he owns, ESPN700, saying he had since looked more closely at the issue and apologized if fans thought his statement meant he did not care about the movement to end social injustice.
The X96 interview was ultimately deleted, according to The Athletic, which also reported accusations that he used racial slurs in the past, such as the n-word.
Former player-turned-scout Andy Williams, an African American, made two damning allegations against Hansen.
One incident occurred at the US Soccer Development Academy playoffs in Dallas on June 26, 2016, when Hansen was introduced to a black opponent, Kellyn Acosta, who had scored in a win over RSL the previous night.
‘[Then-RSL general manager Craig] Waibel said, “Hey, Dell Loy, this is Kellyn Acosta, one of the guys who scored against us last night,”‘ Williams told The Athletic. ‘Kellyn said hello, and the first comment that Dell Loy made was something like, “Hey Craig, when are we gonna lynch this guy?”
‘Kellyn was right there, he said this right in front of him,’ Williams added. ‘I just turned around and walked away, and left the conversation… I just walked away. I couldn’t even deal with it.’
Williams’s story was corroborated by Acosta’s agent, Daren Flitcroft, who said it was ‘shocking.’
Another incident occurred a few years earlier in Dallas during a discussion between coaches, Hansen, and team equipment manager Kevin Harter, who is of Middle Eastern descent.
According to Williams, Hansen was upset about a disagreement between Harter and an intern on the athletic training staff.
‘He runs up to [Harter], and is like “Hey, I have a beef with you. You can’t be doing this, you can’t be doing that,” and all of a sudden, n-word drops,”‘ said Williams. ‘His wife was like, “Dell Loy, you can’t say that.”
‘And everybody looked at me, and I’m just like, “What? What did I just hear?”
‘And then he said it again.’
An anonymous source corroborated the comment, which was not directed at any particular person.
‘I’m not sure how the sentence went to be honest, I wasn’t listening too closely, but I know 100 percent that he said it,’ that person told The Athletic.
According to one unnamed source, current RSL player Albert Rusnak was speaking with his agent Aidy Ward, a black man, when Hansen came up and asked ‘Is that how you speak African?’
Former RSL defender Aaron Maund told The Athletic about an interaction with Hansen in a team elevator.
Maund, who was injured and using a scooter to get around, lowered his hood to greet Hansen, who allegedly replied, ‘Oh my God, I thought you were a thug.’
Hansen’s comments about the player protests drew swift rebukes on Thursday.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber issued a statement that said: ‘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 the way they were expressed. They do not reflect the views of MLS.’
NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird also issued a statement.
‘Dell Loy Hansen’s remarks regarding player protests are in conflict with the values of the NWSL,’ Baird said. ‘Black Live Matter, racism in this country is real, and we must continue the critically important work of addressing racial injustice in our country.’
The MLS players association issued a statement calling the allegations ‘sickening.’
‘The MLSPA calls on MLS to immediately suspend Hansen and conduct a thorough investigation,’ the statement said. ‘If the allegations are substantiated, he must be forced to sell the team.’
The scheduled MLS match at Rio Tinto on Wednesday was the first to include fans, although at a reduced capacity of about 5,000. Hansen suggested on the radio show that he would not be allowing fans at the games in the future, and would cut as many as 50 jobs as a result.
Former RSL and U.S. national team goalkeeper Nick Rimando was among those who also criticized Hansen.
‘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,’ Rimando wrote on Twitter.
Royals rookie Tziarra King supported RSL players on social media, tweeting: ‘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.’
Altidore was even more direct: ‘He needs to sell the team then. I’m involved in a group that’s ready to purchase it. Time for change.’