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NWSL star Sarah Gorden accused stadium security of racially profiling her and her boyfriend at a game.
Players and teams joined the Black Women's Player Collective in condemning racism within the NWSL.
The league fined two teams for speaking out in support of Gorden while an investigation was ongoing.
Less than a week into the National Women's Soccer League's 2021 season, an allegation of racial profiling has dulled the Challenge Cup's shine.
The Chicago Red Stars took on the Houston Dash in the league's 2021 debut match Friday night. After the scoreless draw, Chicago defender Sarah Gorden made her way to the stands at BBVA Compass Stadium to visit with her boyfriend, who'd traveled to Houston to watch Gorden and her Red Stars take on the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup champions.
But Gorden said that as her boyfriend descended the steps to greet her, stadium security surrounded the couple and threatened that he "would be arrested if he came close." In a Twitter thread published the following day, the 28-year-old star said she didn't initially see the altercation as a racial issue - but then she noticed white players "talking closely to their family" around the stadium without any problems.
"We were the only ones targeted," Gorden wrote. "I asked the security guard why he was only talking to us. He said he would go to them later. He never approached any of them."
Gorden's thread sparked outcry from fans and players. Nearly all of her Chicago teammates posted a unified message saying: "We stand with our teammate and will continue to speak out against unjust and unequal treatment."
The Black Women's Player Collective also issued a statement in support of Gorden.
But the Dash's initial response to the incident struck a different tone. The franchise did not acknowledge a possibility of racial profiling, insisting instead that its security staff was "entirely focused on COVID safety." The Dash apologized to Gorden and the Red Stars "for anything that may have created an impression to the contrary."
The comments seemed only to fan the flames. Three days after the interaction that Houston security had with Gorden and her partner, the NWSL announced that it had opened an investigation into the incident. The league said it would look into a potential violation of its anti-discrimination policy.
That led the Dash to issue a second statement in which the franchise acknowledged that its initial response was "off the mark" and apologized to Gorden and her team.
But Houston's players felt the team's response still didn't go far enough. So they released their own statement a day later, in which they apologized to Gorden for her experience at their home field and resolved to not "ignore the principal issue: racial injustice."
The blow-back got messier still when the NWSL Disciplinary Committee issued its decisions this week. Among its league-wide sanctions, the committee imposed fines on two franchises - NJ/NY Gotham FC and the Red Stars - for "violation of a league directive."
That league directive, it turns out, was to "refrain from commenting" on the incident involving Gorden.
According to soccer reporter Grant Wahl, these fines came in response to tweets from Gotham General Manager Alyse LaHue and Chicago co-owner Sarah Spain, who is also a TV personality for ESPN. Each was fined an undisclosed amount "for tweeting about the Houston racial discrimination investigation after the league... directed them not to comment."
Here are the tweets in question:
The results of the league's larger investigation, meanwhile, are still pending. Until the inquiry reaches a conclusion, the NWSL continues to demand that clubs "refrain from commenting further." The league has also said it "will have no additional comments regarding the current investigation."
The 2021 Challenge Cup, however, will continue as planned. Gorden and her Red Stars teammates will suit up Thursday night for a home clash against the Portland Thorns.
Read the original article on Insider