Major League Soccer announced it has opened an investigation into allegations that a New York Red Bulls player said a “racist remark” during the team’s game Saturday versus the San Jose Earthquakes.
The alleged incident occurred during the 54th minute of the game, with the Earthquakes’ Jeremy Ebobisse — who is Black — first hearing the remark; Earthquakes players then congregated around the player who allegedly made the remark — the Red Bulls’ Dante Vanzeir, a high profile recent acquisition from Belgium — before referees stopped play for nearly 20 minutes as they sorted out the situation.
“Major League Soccer is aware of an incident wherein a New York Red Bulls player is alleged to have used language that violates league policy during the 54th minute of the New York Red Bulls vs. San Jose Earthquakes match tonight,” MLS said in a statement. “MLS has zero tolerance for abusive and offensive language and takes these allegations seriously. An investigation into this matter will begin promptly.”
“What we saw tonight should not be part of the game,” Ebobisse told reporters after the game (via MLSSoccer.com’s Tom Bogert). Ebobisse added that the racial remark was not aimed toward him, but “I know what I heard.”
During the delay, Earthquakes coach Luchi Gonzalez gave his team the option of exiting the game entirely, but the players opted to continue the game, resulting in an MLS-record 22 minutes of stoppage time.
“I was adamant to suggest that the player should not be on the field anymore,” Gonzalez told reporters after the game. “When I listen to my players in terms of what was said or not said, there are things there that are unacceptable. It takes precedent over the game we play.”
Ebobisse said, “What is important for me to share is that I know what I heard and the reason why I felt, after a lengthy conversation, we should continue with the game is because the player who said the word claimed it was not aimed at any of us.”
While Ebobisse didn’t name Vanzeir specifically postgame, it was clear from the action on the field that that player sparked the incident; during the pause in action, Gonzalez reportedly asked Red Bulls manager Gerhard Struber to remove Vanzeir from the game. However, Vanzeir remained in the match when play resumed and wasn’t substituted out until the 87th minute.
Ebobisse later added, “This is what it is to be Black in these situations. You can’t be wrong, you can’t overstep anything outside of what you know to be fact. You have to proceed with absolute caution, even in moments of hurt when you’re feeling rather powerless.”
Following the game, the New York Red Bulls issued their own statement in regard to the incident: