Sarah Gorden’s claim of racial profiling looms over Red Stars’ NWSL home debut

Team preps for Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. match, ensuring Gorden is supported through every step of investigation into alleged incident with security in Houston.

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2020 NWSL Challenge Cup - Championship - Houston Dash v Chicago Red Stars

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The National Women’s Soccer League’s investigation into defender Sarah Gorden’s claim that she and her boyfriend were racially profiled by security at BBVA Stadium in Houston looms heavily over the Red Stars as they prepare to host their home opener Thursday at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview.

The Red Stars are focused on their 6:30 p.m. match against the Portland Thorns, goalkeeper Cassie Miller said, but have not lost sight of supporting Gorden through the ongoing investigation and beyond.

“There is no doubt that the players, the staff and the club as a whole support Sarah,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. “It’s disappointing what her and [her boyfriend] Mike went through.”

After a Twitter thread posted by Gorden on Saturday sharing details of the experience, the Houston Dash said the stadium’s staff was focused on COVID-19 safety. On Monday, the club issued a follow-up that said its initial statement was “off the mark.”

Red Stars players and the Black Women’s Players Collective proclaimed their support for Gorden and condemned racism and discrimination in the league.

The BWPC acknowledged Gorden’s experience was not an isolated incident.

“In this league it is not unprecedented for a black player’s family member to be approached and treated with unwarranted hostility,” the BWPC said in a statement. “It is, however, unacceptable. We hope the NWSL’s investigation will be conducted with the utmost principle and integrity.”

This statement was shared by Gorden’s Red Stars teammates and U.S. Women’s National Team players Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn, among others.

Wednesday, the Dash players put out their own statement, saying in part, “the players of the Houston Dash would like to formally apologize to Sarah Gorden for the treatment she and her loved ones endured.”

ESPN’s Sarah Spain, a member of the Red Stars’ ownership group, was fined for violating a league directive after tweeting a statement of support for Gorden, according to a report by former Sports Illustrated reporter Grant Wahl.

“Being an owner, rules and restrictions come with that,” Dames said. “That said, I think it’s hard to censor people, especially on social media. I don’t know specifically why we were fined. Regardless, if it was somebody showing support for Sarah and the situation she was in, then they obviously made that choice. I don’t think anybody won’t stand by that.”

The match against the Thorns pits two of the league’s original clubs.

Miller still will be in goal, and after helping the Red Stars keep a clean sheet against the Dash, she is entering the match with added confidence. Dames said one key is to stay organized on the backline and control the ball. He said he doesn’t want it to turn into a foot race up and down the field.

Rachel Hill has been cleared to play after missing the match Friday because of a left quad injury, and Mallory Pugh (hamstring) potentially could be available.

“We’re close to having everybody available,” Dames said.

NOTE: FC Bayern Munich and Paris-Saint Germain will join the Red Stars and Racing Louisville FC in the inaugural Women’s Cup. The four-team, four-game tournament will take place Aug. 18 and 21 in Louisville, Kentucky.

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