EDITORIAL – The three major supporter groups for the New York Red Bulls, known collectively as The South Ward, elected to stage a protest during the match against the Houston Dynamo. Following the opening whistle, members walked out of their sections. Statements put out by the supporter groups – Empire Supporters Club, Viking Army, and Torcida 96– explain their stance on the issues that factored into this historic action with the protest at Red Bulls Arena.
South Ward Walkout: A Protest at Red Bull Arena
What Led To The Protest
Early in the second half of the match between the Red Bulls and the San Jose Earthquakes, a scuffle erupted between players. Belgian international Dante Vanzeir, one of the players involved, made an outburst that was quickly rebuffed by several San Jose players. During a lengthy pause in play, players, coaches, referees, and league officials conferred with one another to find out what happened. During this time, fans were given no information and were left to wait out the stoppage. After the match, RBNY manager Gerhard Struber confirmed the allegation of racism in his opening statement for the press.
Earlier this week, Major League Soccer handed down a six-match suspension and an undisclosed fine to the striker for racist language. Vanzeir has admitted to the use of inappropriate language as was alleged during the match. He has offered an apology to the Earthquake players and to fans:
— Dante Vanzeir (@dantevanzeir) April 10, 2023
The supporters’ groups directly criticize Struber’s inaction during the match, as well as his statements in the days following. Fans, already critical of the manager, feel this is ‘the last straw’ in a series of moves by the Austrian coach that have made the team weaker during his tenure. Additionally, they declare the punishment put forward by the league against Vanzeir and the lack of punishment for Struber insufficient and do not reflect the ‘zero tolerance’ policy that the league promotes.
“After failing to properly handle the incident of racial abuse by DC United’s Taxi Fountas last summer, MLS has once again failed to live up to its policy of “Zero Tolerance” for racism. We call on MLS to reevaluate their findings and enact a punishment befitting the incident in question.”
–From the Empire Supporter Club Press Release
What The Protest Looked Like
South Ward members wore black, avoiding team gear or colors. Tailgates sponsored by the supporter groups collected donations to support MLS Black Players for Change, an organization created in 2020 to combat racial inequality. Rather than the usual raucous march to the stadium, the members entered Red Bull Arena quietly and held up signs in the stands. Weather delayed the game over thirty minutes, and at kickoff, members peacefully left and Autism Acceptance Night went on as planned. The Red Bulls went on to draw the match, 1-1.
What It Means And What Comes Next
The South Ward wanted to make it clear they are dissatisfied. Other fans, either out of ignorance or derision, did not support the spirit of the protest. Several people filtered into the Supporters’ Section, more interested in a different view of the game than the reasons why the view was available. But the team appears to have gotten the message. Struber addressed the protest in his press conference:
“I have respect for the opinions and also the feelings of our supporters.” At the same time, Struber expresses a commitment to moving forward rather than stepping aside. Midfielder Daniel Edelman addressed morale within the squad: “We don’t tolerate that as a team and we’re all trying to grow from it.” The team has already offered any fan who purchased a Vanzeir jersey a free replacement, and the striker is already absent from all promotional materials. It is very possible that the team will find a way to continue without him.
This protest is not over. The Red Bulls hit the road for two matches but will see another walkout on May 6th if there is no further action by the team or the league.
Photo Credit: John Perdicaro of the New York Red Bulls