First Touch

Major League Soccer Has A Racism Problem

Well, I’d love to give all of you a preview of the Major League Soccer Playoffs chase, or maybe predictions for the English Premier League season that just started. Hell, I’d gladly detail a car crash I saw once. Unfortunately, we’re gonna have to talk about the racism problem in American soccer and off-the-field stuff and if you want to just tap out right now, I get it. I’m sorry.

Tim Hall’s View From 101

For readers of this fine publication, the concept of racism in football needs no reintroduction, because it happens on a monthly basis if you’re lucky, and weekly if you’re not. Bananas and monkey chants being hurled at black players in Europe are as ingrown as the grass. If this is news to you, we can’t recommend any books about the subject as much as we can entire libraries.

No summation of the issue of racism in soccer in this space could do the issue justice, so none will be provided so as to avoid leaving out any particularly horrific instances. We trust you know how to work a bit of the Google to find the answers you seek.

But hatred – vile, virulent hatred, even beyond specifically racism – within the sport have been prevalent for years. Again, to give a full history and explanation of this takes many more pages than we have here and has been explained more cogently and expertly than we ever can.


Suffice to say – football grounds in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the supporter ends specifically, have typically been home to men: usually young, likely white, frequently lower on either the financial or educational spectrum, and therefore disillusioned or disaffected and seeking a place of community.

MLS empire supporters club logo

Into that vacuum invariably are sucked far-right wing units who have historically used that, or any, opportunity to lure disadvantaged young men or any sucker that’ll buy the bill of goods they are selling. The groups feed their mark a few good lines, then take them down the rabbit hole, and before you know it there’s straight arm salutes as far as the eye can see. So, there’s a brief history of football in the last 75 years in Europe. And then, enter Major League Soccer.


MLS burst onto the scene in the late 1990’s with no culture and no history whatsoever. What there was, however, were people who had been watching the sport for years on dodgy satellite feeds, and they brought with them all the baggage described above. What followed was a flat-out footrace between neo-nazis and human beings to see who would get to the terraces first, what those terraces would be like, and what to name those terraces since “terrace” has a different meaning in the States.

anti fascist sticker

For the most part, in those early days, the good guys won. We can point specifically, and locally, to the battle fought by fans of the NY/NJ MetroStars, now known as the New York Red Bulls. The longer story can, again, be more ably told in the article entitled “The Socialist Soccer Fans Who Saved MLS from Neo-Nazis” by Leander Schaerlaeckens for Vice in 2015, but, well, the title more or less gives it away, doesn’t it?

A bunch of punks, anarchists, Northern Soul enthusiasts, Hispanics and every other color of the rainbow joined together to beat back any far-right threat from taking over Giants Stadium. Even if, in 1996, white supremacists were an incredibly small minority, giving them a foothold would have legitimized them.

White Supremacists 

Which leads us back to 2019 If you haven’t noticed, white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-nazis and other cretins are finding footholds all over the damned place in the United States. You can barely throw a rock without hitting one, but don’t let that stop you from trying. In response to this current political climate, the supporters groups of MLS have increasingly raised their voices to say that such scum are not, have not been, nor ever will be welcome in their ranks, or in their stadia.

These protestations haven’t been 100% successful, as pockets of these far-right jamokes have wormed their way in around the league. This has just led to supporter clubs getting louder and more ostentatious with their messaging. And the league, MLS, for their part have put their foot down and said “Well, there’s very fine people on both sides.”

Not only has the league not acted with any impetus to get rid of the people that think a good 50% of their fans should die or leave the country, but MLS have started actively attacking those which are trying to defend themselves against said threat. It began easily enough, with security types taking pictures and writing down information about anyone that wore a “Against Racism/Against Fascism” scarf or similar paraphernalia. Major League Soccer will have your papers, please.


Recently, MLS has ramped up their attacks. In Portland, Seattle, New York and Atlanta, when fans tried to visibly voice their opinions that, perhaps, a white ethnostate at the expense of all the various races and religions already in this country might be a bad thing. Maybe, hating people for their color or religion or orientation might also be a bad thing.

When fans voiced their displeasure with that, MLS fans around the league were told to take off those scarves, drop those banners, and get the hell out of the arena. In Atlanta, some fans faced a year-long ban, and would have to write an apology letter, take a class and pay a fine if they wanted to return to a game.

If you’re somehow neutral on all of this and thinking that because a stadium is private property, they can do what they want, OK, you’re not wrong. But this is MLS, one of the first major sports leagues in America to wave the rainbow flag of gay rights, in certain markets, when it seems appropriate, when they can make a buck off of it. Now, when forces of hate and bias come around, the league wants to hold up its hands and say “Hey, no politics in here.” Which doesn’t exactly wash when you can get camouflage versions of your favorite team’s kit for Military Appreciation Week.

anti racist MLS soccer scarfs
Kick racism out of football? MLS isn’t so sure..
but they did ban these scarves from their matches.

Which side are they on?

All that Major League Soccer and commissioner Don Garber had to do was say “we condemn bigotry in all forms, all ways, no matter what.” But when they institute a ‘no politics’ policy, all they’re doing is giving equal time to people that bring hate to our game. They are welcoming in more violence. They are giving the worst among us a foothold, and that is often all they need. Even passively condoning what they stand for is enough.

There are people willing to stand and fight the good fight, and they are banning them from coming back to do the same. Eventually, others will simply walk away, disgusted by what the league they loved has become, and leave MLS to stew in a hell of their own creation, with nothing and no one but the worst in creation to hold them up.

This weekend, there will be another round of games and another round of voices against hate. Keep a close eye on which side MLS is on – there really is only one side, whatever they’d have you believe – and think about whether you’ll support the league going forward.

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