VANCOUVER, B.C. — Several members of ECS were escorted out of B.C. Place and reportedly even threatened with arrest during Sunday’s Western Conference semifinal between the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps.
Their alleged crime? Hanging and then refusing to remove a sign that read “Anti-Fascist/Anti-Racist/Always Seattle.”
We got kicked out of BC Place for this banner because MLS told them to do it. pic.twitter.com/kEGAZaXVYz— Tom Biro (@tombiro) October 30, 2017
The decision to remove the sign and those holding it was done at the behest of MLS headquarters, according to people familiar with the situation. An MLS official told ECS that the sign was considered “political speech.” Sounder at Heart confirmed with a MLS spokesperson that this was the reason given for removing the sign, but said a statement would be released by the league that will clarify their position. As of publishing, no statement had been released.
The situation reportedly started when ECS entered B.C. Place and three signs and a scarf were confiscated. All confiscated items were anti-racist and/or anti-facist in nature. The items were given to a Sounders official, who later returned one of the signs and the scarf — which is sold at CenturyLink Field through Gorilla FC — as both were already approved by the club. The sign was then hung during pregame and for the first half.
Around halftime, the group was asked to voluntarily remove the sign. When the sign wasn’t taken down, police were called in, the tarp covering the section of seats immediately in front of ECS was removed and there was an effort to physically rip the sign out of an ECS member’s hands. Eventually, members of the group were told they could either leave the stadium with the sign or be arrested.
If the reason for removing the sign was accurate and MLS is now considering this sign to be political speech, it would seemingly be at odds with the league’s “Don’t Cross the Line” campaign promoting a very similar message. The league was also apparently OK with a nazi-punching tifo unveiled by the Sons of Ben over the summer when several teams made “show racism the red card” displays.
It also seemingly runs counter to a video segment produced by MLS on the Portland Timbers and their “Refugees Welcome” campaign in which Merritt Paulson says “this program at its roots is about equality and inclusion and acceptance. Those are things that are hallmarks of the club, but are particularly salient in the political climate we’re living in right now. I think now more than ever, it’s a great program for us to engage in and remind everybody who we are.
“Equality, inclusion, acceptance … there’s nothing political to me in that and there shouldn’t be. Those are just human values, and good values. That’s something I feel very comfortable talking about because it’s wrong and right, it’s not political.”
Although MLS has long had a policy against political signs, it’s unclear when this level of enforcement began or what spurned it.
A MLS official declined to explain the league’s exact position, but a possible explanation could be that the league does not want to align itself with the sometimes violent "Antifa" movement. However, being anti-facist does not mean one is part of Antifa. It is thus unclear why MLS finds this sign so problematic, when it claims to support its underlying message