On Wednesday evening, Real Salt Lake were scheduled to play Los Angeles FC at Rio Tinto Stadium in front of 5,000 fans.
In support of protests in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake, many teams from different sports around the country elected not to play. RSL and LAFC collective made that choice as well.
Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen gave a radio interview this morning and expressed strong disagreement with that decision. We reached out to RSL center back Nedum Onuoha to get his thoughts on these events.
Lucas: What was your initial reaction when you heard Dell Loy’s interview on the radio this morning?
Nedum: My initial take was very surprised. I was shocked and kind of felt blindsided by it honestly. He hadn’t spoken to the players so no one really knew how he felt about the whole situation. So at worst if he disagreed about what was going on I thought he would have spoken to the players first as a collective, but he never did. Instead he went out there on his own platform, which is his own radio station and just heavily criticize the way that he did I was stunned. I’m still very disappointed to this moment now.
Lucas: You told the BBC that you don’t want to be here, does that mean you’re planning on a move or not playing for the team going forward?
Nedum: No, the BBC headline, there was more context to it. So from when I saw this is who he was, you can overcome things if someones not a significant part of your workplace, but this is the man at the very, very top of it all, to see this is how he feels, you ask the question who are you playing for? Is this the person you’re playing for to make them look great? Because if it is, you ask yourself why are you here. That’s the thought that probably every player has felt who feels any way on what happened yesterday, then compare it to what happened today. You question is this an environment where I want to work? You want to be in a place where you’re supported from the very top down to wherever you are within the organization. That’s not just for players, but people who serve drinks, that cut the grass, this is everyone. If that’s the tone from the top, you have to ask yourself does this fit with what you believe in?
Lucas: In the interview when you hear Dell Loy Hansen say they brought back 40 employees, and then essentially blaming the RSL and LAFC players that he will now have to fire or re-furlough those people again, what’s your response to that?
Nedum: I don’t get it, to be honest, because I think if he were to speak to the players he would get a feel that there is no long-term plan to boycott the season. So when he says he’s going to have to furlough them, what does he know about the games ahead that we don’t? Has he made a decision based on the game yesterday about what he wants to do with games going forward? If he does, is he cutting off his nose to spite his face? His players, from yesterday morning wanted to play in the game and we were prepared to play in the game, but that’s not the direction that the day took in Americans sports in general. So when he says he’s going to furlough those people, I don’t like threats, I don’t like threats like that to begin with, but these are threats where he’s trying to pass the blame onto us for that. As players we love the workforce, we love the people we see at the stadium every single week when things are normal, we love the people who are with us at the training ground every single day. I think for him to spin that off to us, I don’t get it, and it probably would have been dealt with if he had spoken to the players collectively to get a feel from what’s ahead instead of him deciding this is what it’s going to be.
Lucas: This is obviously an important narrative, especially within the RSL sphere, but what’s your sense that the conversation has shifted from racism and police brutality to that of an upset owner? How do you setback and look at this within the larger picture of what we’re dealing with in this country right now?
Nedum: In my personal opinion, I think Dell Loy has missed the mark in terms of what he’s said and how he’s done it, because if he disagreed with the players, he didn’t need to go out in the public and say that straight away. If he disagreed, he could have said that with the players and there would be no push-back from outside about how he feels, because the players would’ve been able to discuss the matter in hand. But there’s no level of full discussion here and he’s said what he’s said. Now we have to live with those consequences with whatever he may chose to do now, which is a very strong position to be in considering we’re all under the same root and the same organization. It’s weird but again in some ways this emphases the point because when we’re trying to have a bigger dialog about what’s happened in Wisconsin, who’s the person who’s pushing back against us? Is it a person where it doesn’t matter to them what’s happened, but the thing is if it did matter to them the tone changes. Change comes when people at the very, very top can either empathize, sympathize, listen, or just take an understanding in why people do what they do. If they do that, it’s a completely different narrative. I believe a lot of protests that have gone on in this country for decades, but more specifically now is crying out for support from the very top, because then it makes things more legitimate.
The way he reacted this morning, I think overall it makes him look a certain way, based on the majority of the fans who support RSL. It enhances the point this is something that we need to work at, because if everything was OK we could do what we did yesterday and we wouldn’t be criticized for it by people who are a full part of the same origination.
Lucas: Has Dell Loy had any communication with the players since the players decided not to play last night?
Nedum: I think he spoke to one player last night — but I can’t really mention who that player was — and said a few things, which at some point may have to come out. He said a few things that were very disappointing but he didn’t say anything to the full group.
Lucas: It sounds like the players were either barred from practicing or a team meeting today, can you speak to that?
Nedum: We were told yesterday that we weren’t going to be training today, and that came from Freddy (Juarez), and he said that based on the emotion of the day and all that stuff. That’s the information we received, but people still came because we had (COVID-19) testing today anyway, so people were in the building and some people were doing extra training, doing some running and in the gym, so it’s not like there was a complete lockout from the training complex. As far as I can see, it seems like it was controlled by Freddy and not by Dell Loy, but who knows there?
Lucas: Was there any kind of meeting between the players and the coaching staff in regards to the game last night or the comments by Hansen this morning?
Nedum: No, there’s been no meeting about any comments that came out this morning. But yesterday we were all in discussion from 3 p.m. on about what could potentially be happening for the game happening at 7:30 and all the stuff that was going on around the league. As I said, the dialogue was spread across all the teams who were going to be playing and the conversation was extended to teams that wouldn’t be playing as well who would be giving their opinion. From when that dialogue started, we were in contact with staff members and coaching staff to the point where it wouldn’t be a surprise as to what would come next, or would could potentially come next. We were speaking about and it’s not one of those things you can decide if, say, three or four of you say you don’t want to do it, then everyone just have to live with those consequences. This is something where we were united, as you can see in the picture we had all the coaching staff, all the players, we had the referees, we had everybody that was going to a part of that game because we communicated together about what could potentially be going on. Today we haven’t had the chance to do that yet, but I think we’ll probably be speaking on it tomorrow.
Lucas: I don’t know how closely you’ve been following social media today, but an alarming number of stories about Dell Loy Hansen displaying what I would describe as toxic behavior have come forward from current and former employees of the origination. As a player, how do you feel about hearing those kinds of stories come out about the owner of your team?
Nedum: I’ve not been on social media to be seeing that, but I have heard that’s a thing that is going on. As a player, you’re basically just there to play, with ownership whether you like it or don’t like it, you don’t get to dictate who’s at the top of the tree in terms of an organization. So if someone those things are true, there could be some significant changes coming up ahead, but if they’re all false then it’s business as usual. As a player you just have to focus in and we’re still trying to get ready for the next game because ultimately that’s our job.
Lucas: There have been unconfirmed allegations of Dell Loy Hansen using the n-word towards a Black employee, possibly as a joke. As a Black man yourself, if that were to come out as true, how would you feel about that?
Nedum: That’s for me straight up unacceptable. You can say it’s a joke and there’s no ill-intent, but for me I don’t use the word at all, either serious or joking or anything, so I don’t feel anybody should use that type of word at all. That’s a flat no for me. If that’s the kind of thing was confirmed to have happened, then I’ll step up and happily get behind anyone who says that you need to be held accountable for that, regardless of if it is a joke or serious or whatever, because that term itself to be used in whatever context, especially in that instance, is just unacceptable in my opinion.
Lucas: In terms of accountability for a team owner, what do you think that would or should look like (if an owner used the n-word)?
Nedum: As a player, we’d have to all speak to the union and speak to the league and just let them know that this is unacceptable and if they are with us like they say that they are, then they’d have to put pressure on him to no longer be in that position. But it’s all dependent on if he did say it and they can prove that he said it, because if all those things fall in line, it’s unequivocal that he shouldn’t be in charge of a football club.