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NWSL investigating Red Stars defender Sarah Gorden’s accusation of racial profiling after Challenge Cup opener

Red Stars defender Sarah Gorden said she and her boyfriend were racially profiled by a security guard after the opening match of the Challenge Cup tournament in Houston.

Chicago Red Stars defender Sarah Gorden (11) prepares to kick the ball during an NWSL Challenge Cup soccer match, Friday, April 9, 2021, in Houston.
Matt Patterson/AP

The National Women’s Soccer League has opened an investigation into claims that Red Stars defender Sarah Gorden and her boyfriend were racially profiled after the opening match of the Challenge Cup tournament, the league told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday.

In a Twitter thread published Saturday morning, Gorden said she and her boyfriend, who are Black, were harassed by a security guard at BBVA Stadium in Houston when her boyfriend tried to speak with her near the field after the Red Stars’ scoreless draw against the Houston Dash.

Gorden also said security threatened to arrest her boyfriend if he came closer to the pitch.

“My boyfriend came to our game against the Houston Dash. After the game he came down the steps to talk to me. We were immediately (before he was close to me) followed by security and told he would be arrested if he came close,” Gorden tweeted. “Meanwhile white players were talking to white family [sic] all over the stadium.”

Gorden said she didn’t think the security guard’s threat was racially motivated until she saw white players with their families.

“At first I didn’t realize this was a racial issue until I saw white Houston Dash players surrounding the stadium talking closely to their family and we were the only ones targeted,” Gordon continued.

In her final tweet, Gorden said: “This is just another reason why we kneel.”

Red Stars assistant coach, Scott Parkinson shared a detailed take on the exchange from his perspective to Twitter Saturday afternoon. He was notified by another member of the team that Gorden was in a situation that was concerning. Parkinson proceeded to walk towards Gorden and her three friends, one of them being her boyfriend, and became angry at the way the security guard was addressing them. It appeared to him that Gorden and her friends, all of whom are Black, were the only ones being confronted.

“My instincts told me they were being unfairly treated because of the color of their skin,” Parkinson said in a post on Twitter.

The Dash issued a statement on Twitter on Saturday afternoon that said staff was focused on preventing violations of the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

“We are aware of comments made by a player from Chicago this morning,” the Dash said. “We would like to assure her and the Red Stars organization that our staff was entirely focused on COVID safety. We apologize to her and the club for anything that may have created an impression to the contrary.”

Gorden didn’t immediately return the Sun-Times’ request for comment. The NWSL said it saw Gorden’s Twitter thread and was looking into the allegations.

“Racial profiling and discrimination have no place in this league, and we are investigating the matter according to league process,” the league said in a statement.

The Red Stars said they’ve been in communication with the Dash about the matter.

“The Chicago Red Stars have been in touch with Houston Dash and the league to understand what occurred. We are awaiting a statement from Houston on the matter,” the Red Stars said in a statement.

Gorden, a member of the Black Women’s Player Collective, which was announced in October, has used her platform to be a fierce activist for social justice and the fight against systemic racism. She launched a nonprofit, HoodSpace, in 2020 that’s focused on young Black women finding space through meditation, yoga and sport while prioritizing mental health.

Last summer, in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, players wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts and knelt during the national anthem, but not all league members continued to participate in the gesture as the Challenge Cup progressed.

One of the league’s community initiatives during the tournament last year was establishing the Verizon Community Shield award. More recently, the league announced Nationwide as an official league partner, and part of that sponsorship includes expanding the league’s community initiatives. Additionally, an inaugural community impact award was announced as part of that multiyear sponsorship deal.