UPDATE: Dell Loy Hansen announced on Aug. 30 that he will sell the holding company that includes all of his soccer teams. Click here for the story.
Union midfielder Warren Creavalle has been at the forefront of the push by Major League Soccer’s Black Players for Change group to make a meaningful impact on the league and broader society. And while he wasn’t in the player strikes at five of Wednesday’s six scheduled MLS games, he was in the conversations that led up to them.
“I’m really proud of the [NBA’s Milwaukee] Bucks for getting the ball rolling, and our league, in addition to the WNBA, standing in solidarity,” he told the Best Soccer Show podcast in an interview recorded late Wednesday night. “Shifting the focus from sports to human rights, I think that’s what’s most important in this moment. ... We have to take things one day at a time, and we just knew that it was the right step to take to not play today.”
Creavalle and many other players weren’t satisfied with the league’s response to players refusing to play. An official statement by the league said it “made the decision” to postpone the games that didn’t happen, but it was clear from TV broadcasts and social media that the players took the action.
“If it didn’t come from the players, it wouldn’t have happened,” Creavalle, 30, said. “[The league] had the statement that they made the decision to postpone the games. That decision was made by the players. … Maybe it’s more powerful that it is coming from the players, but without a doubt, we would have loved to see the league step up and act on their own.”
Nor was he satisfied with the first statement the league put out Wednesday, in which it said it shares Black players’ “pain, anger and frustration,” and “unequivocally condemns racism.” Though the shooting of Jacob Blake was mentioned, there was no specific mention of police brutality, nor voting, nor specific candidates for whom fans should vote.
“ctrl+c, ctrl+v,” Creavalle wrote on Twitter -- copy and paste.
D.C. United and the Portland Timbers were among the MLS teams whose statements mentioned police brutality. WNBA players have not only encouraged voting but endorsed specific candidates such as Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is running against Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler for one of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats.
Creavalle and the BPC have strong support from the Union and players across the league.
“You have allies, captains on teams, reaching out to players, leadership of the BPC, getting their takes on it, seeing where we stand,” he said in the podcast interview, “and taking that stand with us has been really beautiful to see.”
Some of the most notable responses to Wednesday’s events centered on the Real Salt Lake-Los Angeles FC game that did not happen.
“Yes, people will miss out on the entertainment, but at the end of the day it’s entertainment,” RSL defender Nedum Onuoha said. “There are other things going on which are essentially life or death, which should be a bigger part of any conversation that exists today.”
RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen, who also owns the NWSL’s Utah Royals and USL’s Real Monarchs, was furious with his players.
“The disrespect is profound to me personally,” he said in an interview on a local radio station he owns. “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 threatened to cut 40 to 50 team jobs because of the players’ actions. SB Nation reported he barred players from the team training facility on Thursday, and The Athletic reported allegations that Hansen has a history of racist remarks.
Players and fans responded by calling on him to sell the team, led by U.S. men’s national team star Jozy Altidore and former U.S. and RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Altidore said he’s “involved in a group that’s ready to purchase” the MLS franchise.
Royals forward Tziarra King, a Sicklerville, N.J., native, spoke from within the organization.
“For DLH to take this very real situation for the black [sic] community, and try to turn it around and make it about himself is completely unacceptable,” she wrote on Twitter. “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. I’m disappointed, but not surprised, by the lack of understanding in this situation.”
MLS commissioner Don Garber said that “I strongly disagree with the comments he made ... They do not reflect the views of MLS.”
NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said Hansen’s remarks “are in conflict with the values of the NWSL.”
“The MLSPA calls upon MLS to immediately suspend Hansen and conduct a thorough investigation,” the former said. “If the allegations are substantiated, he must be forced to sell the team.” The NWSLPA said it “stands behind” the MLSPA’s statement.
Hansen spoke on another radio station he owns Thursday afternoon. He apologized to “all who felt or heard or believed that I personally do not see the profound purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement,” but didn’t put the onus fully on himself until a few minutes later.
“The players’ intentions were probably misinterpreted on my side,“ he said. “I felt we had a duty to the community, they felt they had a duty to a greater purpose, and they acted on that greater purpose. ... I see why that happened, and I’m sorry that I didn’t see it at the time because I was looking more in a microcosm of people who had come to see us play and were extremely disappointed.”
That was a reference to RSL being one of the few MLS teams that allow fans in the stands. Wednesday was to be the team’s first home game since the league resumed playing games in home markets.
Hansen did not directly answer a question on whether the players were locked out.
Before Wednesday’s games, players and coaches MLS wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts designed by Creavalle. The shirt is so popular with fans that it has sold out repeatedly on Creavalle’s personal website and the league’s official store. But as Creavalle emphasized, selling T-shirts isn’t the same as changing laws.
“I was having conversations with one of my teammates, saying, ‘How many T-shirts need to be made, you know, how many statements need to be made before there’s change?’” he said. “We keep watching Black people die at the hands of police, brutality at the hands of police, and civilians for that matter. And it’s just been really disheartening to see, really disgusting to see.”
He continued that it has been “super-frustrating because you’re asking yourself, what does it take to change? I don’t have those answers, but collectively and individually I know we all have to take our steps to further the message and further the action.”
That action, Creavalle said, needs to go beyond soccer.
“We want to make changes within the soccer world, but if we’re getting gunned down in the street, it doesn’t matter that we play soccer, it doesn’t matter that we’re on TV,” he said. “Once we leave the stadium, we’re just another Black person.”