SEATTLE – Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber on Tuesday took dead aim at a controversial New York Times Magazine article questioning the diversity of MLS supporters’ culture, calling the article “factually incorrect” and “irresponsible.”
Garber spoke with the Seattle media about a wide range of topics while in town this week for a technology summit at Safeco Field, but his views on an article critical of the Seattle Sounders’ chief supporters group and a perceived lack of diversity therein drew arguably Garber’s strongest reaction.
Released online Tuesday, the article focused primarily on author Jay Caspian Kang’s recent visit with Seattle’s Emerald City Supporters, then attempted to draw parallels between ECS’ present-day culture with that of a 1980s group of racially-charged Manchester United supporters and recent cultural clashes among England supporters while in France for this summer's Euro 2016 championship.
“Like unfortunately things can be with the media, it was poorly reported, factually incorrect and irresponsible, with a lack of any research whatsoever,” Garber said. “Frankly, something like this should never see the light of day.”
Kang writes in the article that while the ECS has taken a number of traditions from fellow supporters groups in Europe – songs, Tifo displays and the pregame March to the Match – the group has also adopted a "sense of denial" about the racism that accompanied some of Europe’s most extreme supporters groups.
Kang also writes that there are two separate American soccer cultures – one white, one Latino – and that “this divide has limited the appeal and growth of the sport in the States.”
Garber promptly defended ECS’ inclusion of fans of all races and cited that 30 percent of the league’s fan base is Hispanic, and MLS is the only North American sports league with an exclusive prime-time television deal with a Spanish-language network.
“We are the league for new America,” Garber said. “Anyone who thinks otherwise has just got their head in the sand."
While a number of Sounders fans took to social media Tuesday to voice their discontent with the article, ECS released a brief statement via its official Twitter handle and indicated they would be in full attendance at the Sounders’ game against FC Dallas on Wednesday.
"This was not some blog. This was the New York Times. They know better," Garber said. "What empowers me is to see the guy getting scorched in social media, because this is just not representative of good journalism."
Garber said that he was disappointed by the “lack of professionalism and research” that went into the article, citing that no interviews were conducted with front office representatives or players from the Sounders or MLS. Kang told critics via his Twitter handle Tuesday that he spoke with leaders of ECS while in Seattle for the piece, but no members of the group were quoted or mentioned in the article.
“It didn’t in any way remotely reflect the supporters culture in our league, or the demographics of our supporters,” Garber said. “I was absolutely astounded by the article.”