Like many of you, I had a hard time getting as excited as I wanted to be about a Thorns game yesterday. Thorns vs. Chicago is always a good game, and it was probably my most anticipated Challenge Cup game. Last Friday night, when I saw the entire team- the entire bench and coaching staff- kneel on the field for the anthem, I felt emotional and hopeful for what this league can stand for. I was proud, last year, of the Thorns players who spoke up about the work being done within the club, the visibility of warm-up shirts with clear messaging that Black Lives Matter, the unified anthem protests. Then came the post-game post on Friday night, and the weekend that followed, and all the days leading up to Tuesday when the Thorns front office finally decided to remove Friday’s tweet. I am so excited to watch this Thorns team – so excited to support them this year. But I am embarrassed and angry that our front office is taking steps backward in the commitment to social justice.
I’ve learned a lot in the past year and I have a long way to go. One thing that I’ve learned, or reinforced, is to listen when someone- particularly someone who belongs to a group that has been marginalized- does the work of letting us know that our actions have harmed them. I used to believe that intention mattered as much as impact. It turns out I was wrong. When it comes to public statements and actions, impact matters more. Black players and their supporters, from around the league, have put themselves out there to let our front office know that their language was racially loaded and perpetuates a harmful narrative, and – until Tuesday – our front office and its employees just doubled down.
Black people should not have to do this work, but they are. They have taken a remarkably heavy weight on their shoulders by standing up and saying what is wrong. As a white person, I need to back them up and take this on as well. I will never be one to spew personal abuse at anyone. I can’t know anyone’s personal journey or beliefs from behind a screen. But I can look at actions through an anti-racist lens and I can say: The Portland Thorns and their social media team got this wrong and the harm they caused far outweighs any intention or any action they now take regarding this incident.
There is no erasing the harm of the last week. Apologies are important, especially when they demonstrate that real understanding has dawned and growth is happening, but they will not fix this. The trust that has been lost with Black fans, and many other fans as well, doesn’t just come back. This isn’t the first time this has happened with our front office, and it won’t be the last.
So how do we move forward? This incident may already be receding for some, but our response doesn’t need to. The only way the front office can make this better is to make significant changes. Chicago didn’t play the anthem at their game this week. We could do that. OL Reign put Black Futures Coop Fund on the front of their jerseys and supports player-led initiatives that are making the world better and less racist and transphobic. That is innovative and awesome. Where is Portland in all of this? Oh yeah, we’re over here barely back-pedaling on a really terrible tweet (and supporting the Portland Business Alliance while they’re at it). I’m upset and I’m embarrassed that this is my club. I call on our front office to do better. I’m mad that I can’t be shouting joyfully from the rooftops that we won our first two games even with a barely full roster, and I love this team. And I’m even more angry that this club is causing such hurt and exhaustion to Black people through their racist action and, even more, inaction. What would make it better? Get ahead of this and do things better next time, and the time after that, and every other time, way into the future.
Nothing changes without action by the supporters. The Riveters are nothing without the hundreds or thousands who make up this supporters group. The volunteers, the fans, everyone who stands in the North End or elsewhere and wants this club to be better. Please contact your ticket rep and tell them that the tweet got it wrong, and you don’t want the anthem, and you want to know what they will do to rebuild the trust that has been lost. Don’t let them write us off as a vocal few— show them that we are many and we want change. If you, like me, are not quite sure who your rep is at the moment, you can use firstname.lastname@example.org. Take those fingers and write an email to the club. And when you do, please cc the 107IST board at email@example.com. The Riveters also want to do better, and that is also driven by you. You are the Riveters. Come to a meeting, write a blog post, or get in touch if you have ideas and want to work to make them happen. One place to start for that is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Black Lives Matter.