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An Open Letter to Merritt Paulson

08/11/2019 11:09 AM | Jennifer Ingraham (Administrator)

The following is a post from Shane Mount-Rubenfeld.

Hi, Merritt.

I’m going to presume you’re generally up-to-date with the broad aftermath of the Iron Front ban, which was awkwardly passed down from MLS HQ by your representatives. Perhaps you’ve read a few of these recent TA blogs. You have likely seen videos of white supremacists harassing and assaulting Sounders fans before their August 4 match in Seattle. I would hope you have also been made aware of the expressed intentions of Washington-based white supremacists and their pals to attend and cause trouble at Timbers matches.

Portland’s fascist incursion is not a new problem: we live in a space sculpted by a century and a half of white supremacist public policy. Violent exclusion of minorities is a theme that runs from anti-Black territory law enshrined in the state constitution, past the unpunished massacre of Chinese workers in the late 19th century, past the Vanport displacements in the aftermath of WWII, past the murder of Mulugeta Seraw and the infestation of neo-Nazi skinheads in the 80s, to today’s sharp rise in hate crimes statewide. This story is still being written, and we are all currently playing a role in it via our individual and collective responses (whether passive or active) to both a nationwide and a local increase in racist organization.

Merritt, we cannot place a high enough value on the unity the club has shown with the TA and the Riveters in our mutual efforts to make Providence Park an intentionally welcoming place to populations that too much of our country tries to exclude. For many supporters, this commitment to radical inclusiveness — more than goals, players, or trophies — is what cements our love for and loyalty to this club. This means not being passive allies, but proactive ones, as you were in 2013 when the Timbers and Thorns organizations publicly supported the drive for marriage equality. Then, you knew that standing in defense of human rights — which is an inherently political act in the face of those many who would use the power of the state to deny them — is worth defying the disingenuous "stick-to-sports" mantra of any who want their sports experience (not to mention commercial interests) to reflect and maintain a status quo of inequality.  A similar moment is at hand. 

I hope you will recognize that league- and club office-produced boilerplate is not enough to repair the damage that has been done to this relationship. Supporters of these clubs deserve to hear from you directly, and I urge you to make an opportunity to communicate with us in a personal way as soon as possible.

I’m confident no two supporters’ lists of questions for you would be identical, but there certainly would be some major themes.  Here’s what I would like to know:

  • Do you support MLS’s specific ban of the Iron Front symbol? 

  • If so, why? If not, then why did you extend this enforcement to non-MLS matches held in Providence Park despite the lack of similarly specific demands from NWSL and USL?

  • Do you believe that the league performed adequate due diligence or allowed an appropriate level of debate before handing down the ban on this symbol, and especially before making an explicit equation of antifascism with self-proclaimed white supremacist and fascist organizations?

  • Do you have confidence that the officers of the league are capable of judging “political’ symbols from “non-political”?

  • Relatedly, how do you resolve the league’s blanket ban on political expression, and your office’s public statement that “the Stadium should be a politics-free zone,” with the performance of the national anthem and the display of the flag of the United States before every match?

  • What are the possible sanctions from the league toward a specific club or club’s ownership making a public statement against this ban? What are the possible ramifications of failing to enforce the ban?

  • Do you have confidence in Portland Police Bureau's preparedness and willingness to counter the threat of white supremacist violence in the city in general, or in proximity to Timbers and Thorns games specifically?

The Iron Front symbol is a visible representation of the best values of the TA and the Riveters. It is a declaration that we will not tolerate hatred in this space that you have helped make so special for our clubs, our city, and us supporters. I beg you to loudly advocate for us to the league as a whole until it agrees to:

  • rescind its ban on flying the Iron Front flag,

  • remove the arbitrary word “political” from its fan code of conduct, and 

  • work with international experts on human rights to craft language in the fan code of conduct that reflects and supports radical inclusion and anti-discrimination.


Shane Mount-Rubenfeld

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